Part One: Atlantic Ocean, Night
It was a stupid oversight. It looks like it might get them killed.
Steal a boat seemed like the most reasonable approach to escaping the island. Sea travel had been the most common way to get to and from the island for most of its history, after all. But Artemis had ordered the civilian population to evacuate, and as a result most of the seaworthy boats were gone. The one they’d chosen—an old seiner fishing boat—had looked like the best of the few boats still moored in the Port Libertad docks, but a few hours in and Artemis can tell they’re in trouble.
He’s not sure how fast they’re sinking. Every calculation he attempts produces a different result, and eventually he admits he simply doesn’t know enough about the condition of the boat to predict when the leaking will stop being manageable. A few days at most, is his most optimistic guess—and that’s assuming the weather stays calm, which is far from guaranteed. He doubts there’s enough time for them to actually get anywhere.
“What’s going on?”
David Bernard slumps in a corner of the wheelhouse, sweating and shivering in turns, trying desperately to stay awake. The immediate effects of his encounter with Artigenian’s rune wore off hours ago, so he’s no longer blind, but something else is clearly affecting him. Artemis notices a slight tremor in the younger man’s hands.
Artemis tries to look unconcerned. “Everything’s fine.”
David laughs weakly. “We are too deep into this for you to lie to me right now.”
Artemis sighs. “We’re taking on water. I’ve sealed the offending section off below-decks as best I can, but it’s only a matter of time.”
David frowns. “I don’t remember any of this.”
“You were nodding off,” Artemis says. “I thought it best not to wake you.”
“We escaped the island, though?”
Artemis nods. “We’re in no danger of being pulled back in. Not at this point. But it hasn’t quite released its grip, I’m afraid. The on-board compass is useless, as is the two-way radio.”
“Bermuda Triangle strikes again,” David says.
“It seems so. We’ll have to travel a bit longer before we’re free of it. Once we are… well. I don’t think we’ll make it to land. We’ll have to radio for help, and hope for a rescue.”
“Oh,” David says. “That’s not good, is it? That’s going to attract attention.”
“Rescues at sea do tend to invite scrutiny.” Artemis turns on the radio again. White noise crackles. He turns the volume down, but leaves the radio on. “That said, I’ve made some arrangements that will, I hope, allow us to escape notice.”
“Arrangements,” David says. “Members of your organization?”
Artemis shakes his head. “I don’t altogether trust my people.”
“Not this time. Though I doubt they will object. How are you doing, David?”
David shrugs. “I don’t feel so hot. And I have a lunatic’s memories floating around in my head—Artigenian was a real nasty piece of work. Still, it’s better than having a concussion.”
“Hmmm.” Artemis isn’t entirely sure he agrees. Absorbing the memories of a madman—not just a madman, but a man who is as close to a very particular brand of evil as it’s possible to get and still be human—isn’t a trivial act, and he wishes David would stop treating it so trivially. How much of Artigenian is in his mind? Did David absorb any of the man’s will? Are the memories aware? David claims they aren’t, and Artemis would like to believe him. Experience, however, has taught him to mistrust everything having to do with magic… and it doesn’t explain David’s current condition. He obviously absorbed something more than memories. He’s feverish, drifting in and out of consciousness. If Artemis didn’t know any better, he’d say the man was on the verge of—
Yes. Yes, of course.
Artemis locks the wheel in place, then turns to face David. He kneels, placing his hand on David’s forehead.
“Shouldn’t you be steering?” David moves to bat the hand away, but Artemis simply grabs his wrist, feeling for his pulse.
“The boat will be fine for the moment,” Artemis says.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to take your pulse. Are you cold?”
“I’m fine.” David crosses his arms and tries to suppress a shiver.
“The question is important. Give me your flashlight.”
David removes the LED flashlight from a vest pocket and holds it out. The tremors in his hands are increasing.
“I wouldn’t mind a blanket,” David admits. “I don’t remember the ocean being this cold, this time of year.”
“The ocean is almost always cold,” Artemis says. “But at present, I find the weather quite warm.”
He takes the flashlight, draws back David’s left eyelid, and shines the light into his pupil, watching it contract. David flinches, but waits patiently as Artemis repeats the process with his right eye. “I should have seen this sooner. You’re cocooning.”
It takes a moment for the words to sink in.
“That’s not possible,” David says.
“Very possible.” Artemis stands, brushing the dirt from the floor off his knees. “You need a space to lie down. You’d probably be more comfortable in one of the cabins—at least at first—but I think it’s better if we both stay in the wheelhouse. I’ll be back in a moment with some bedding.”
It only takes a few minutes to collect what he needs—one very worn pillow and two wool blankets. When he returns, David is still sitting in the corner, arms wrapped around his knees.
“I’m serious, Artemis. I’m just sick.”
“You are not sick,” Artemis says. “You are in the early stages of cocooning, and you’re struggling against it. Your fever, tremors, nausea… these are a result of you fighting against what your body needs to do.”
“It’s not possible,” David insists. “It’s just memories.”
“It’s far more than that. Lie down.” Artemis forces David to lie down against the far wall, placing the old pillow under his head and covering him in the blankets. “Think about what you said when you were performing your—your ritual. You didn’t define it as ‘memory.’ You defined it as power. You were claiming power.”
David’s eyes narrow. “I only did that to—”
“I know why you did it,” Artemis says. “You had to release the memory from the force that bound it. I understand your reasons. But it affected you, and your body is adapting to it the same way a metahuman adapts to the manifestation of his or her gifts. You aren’t stupid, David, and I recommend you move past denial as quickly as you can to prepare for what happens next.”
David starts to retort, hesitates, then his expression sinks into a scowl.
“At the moment, the most important thing for you to do is sleep,” Artemis says. “Your body needs it. It’s… well, essentially it’s recalibrating itself to a new set of specifications.”
“Specifications,” David says. “What specifications?”
“An excellent question,” Artemis says. “One we will have to explore, in depth, at a later date. For the moment, stop fighting it. Stop struggling to stay awake. I realize this isn’t the most convenient time or place, but there’s nothing to be done for that. Trust me, if you can, and allow me to make sure we get out of here alive.”
David exhales through his teeth, the hiss of his breath a sound of pure frustration. “I don’t really understand. But I don’t have to, I guess. All right, Artemis. I’ll trust you, and… take a nap. I guess.”
“Good,” Artemis says. “I will keep us safe.”
David closes his eyes. It doesn’t take long after that—his breathing steadies into the rhythmic cadence of sleep.
“Sleep well, David.”
Artemis stands, straightens, and returns his attention to the endless gray water.