Maybe half a year ago I was lounging around in some dive bar feeling sorry for myself, when I looked up and met another man. He was a soldier, prewar and fully stocked. I wasn't going back down that road again. Besides, he was a co-worker. Work relationships never work.
Our query was some old mining equipment. I've found my fair share of fragments that could be dated to prewar times, but whole and preserved pieces was something different entirely. I was only there for the constructs though. A construct was always a find no matter what. They are emitters that create cascades of pliable hard light scaffolding. Each are multipurpose, and can be used for anything. If I could get my hands on one of those, I could do anything.
Today was a special day though. We were entering Danmark, which was a big achievement. Of all the old governments theirs was the only one still self contained and preserved, at least the only one I was aware of. It was hard to get into a country that still had borders. They were so conventional in the old world. Now, one could be fortunate to find a country that even knew what a border was.
“How much longer until we reach the tunnel?”
Leif Asvaldsson turned back to look at me. His dim eye was sleepy. We had been rowing most of the day, and my arms felt numb at the tips from the cold water. Leif heaved a sigh and looked on ahead.
“Mmm...” he raised his monocular to the working eye and squinted. “Two hundred meters to the beach. Another thirty kilometers after that.”
“You know, you strike me as someone who doesn't go out to find articles like this for the sake of charity.” Leif shrugged as he rowed, rolling his shoulders back. He looked occupied with something else. I couldn't help feel he was hiding something from me.
“Something has been following us...” His voice contained hints of irritation. Another disconcerting look made me wonder if he was growing delirious from the rowing.
“Beg your pardon? Where? There's nothing here but water.”
“Underneath...” Leif's body slumped under the weight of another stride, stifling his words. “Something... big.”
This was bad.
From my pocket I took out a camera. It was a flex tip, something that I discovered in a dig a few years back. So far it had come in handy several times. Wens wanted to toss it! He would want to toss it. When the piece was located I had the inclination to sell it, but I thought I'd keep it around. Putting it underwater I calibrated without difficulty to the water's depth, coolness, and salts. What I saw was startling, though unexpected.
“It's a shark.”
“It's a big fish that lives in the ocean that eats people...”
“I know what a shark is!” Leif shouted in panic. “Oh Jesus... how far away is it?”
It was right underneath us, actually. I didn't want to worry him though.
“Thirty meters out... I wouldn't worry. It looks to me like a smooth hammerhead. As long as the boat doesn't sink we'll be fine”
Leif paddled faster then, like a madman. The shore was near, as I could see it. From where we were the land looked placid, even welcoming. It would be violent there as most of the lands were now. Only in the sea were things mostly the same. Then again water never changes.
The waves under me, churning rhythmically, endlessly, kept my mind at ease. It had been a considerable time since I had slept. Naturally I went out, but it didn't last. I felt the lurch of the boat slide forward up the beach, followed by Leif's heaving pull up the rest. I was impressed. He really was much stronger than I anticipated.
“Can I ask you something,” I said, pulling out my pack from the boat. Leif lifted his eyes, tying off the boat pensively. He kept to himself primarily. This was business after all.
“If you want to know how fast I can run, it's 44miles per hour.”
“That's not what I... really? Wow.” No, I was actually impressed. The things people can do under a microscope!
“I know right,” he admitted, scooping up the pack in his hands off the ground. “The times I've been asked, you could hardly believe it actually. “I once had to flee a troupe of collectors. You should have seen the looks on their faces.”
“Really? Well, no. That's not what I wanted to know.”
“Then spit it out Reynard,” he grumbled. I think he was hoping that would be enough to deflect my questions.
“Well,” I began, “Why did you come to find me? And what business does a prewar soldier have looking for mining equipment?”
I waited for a few moments, hoping that he would have something to say. He never replied. Silently, he walked up the beach his eyes forward, taking in the emerald sea of grass before him. There was a road. You could see it still, were you to look hard enough. It was hidden underneath a bed of flowers stretching to the horizon.
“Maybe I Should be honest with you Reynard,” he admitted, bending down to pull out of his pack a GPS tracker. “I'm not looking for mining equipment.”
I wasn't surprised, really. This wasn't the first time I was lead astray. The last time I had to deal with something like this was when a pair of polsk explorers asked me to cover the entire Jutland with beacons to trap seals. They ended up being collectors eventually, and I nearly escaped with my life. That was too close for comfort.
“Then what am I here for?” My voice became shrill, indignant, a good cover so that he wouldn't turn around to see me pulling out a stun wand.
“I'm looking for a girl,” he said, “my sister.”
Intriguing. I slid the wand slowly back into the pouch lining the inner warmth of my jacket.
“And why do you need an archeologist to find your sister?”
“You've been to France, right?”
I have, but that was 200 years ago.
“Oh, France huh?” Were was that stun wand?
“All I need is a translator,” he said calmly, turning around to find me tearing through my jacket, “and a good pair of hands. I last heard of her staying with a small tribe of nomads that traveled the Rhineland. That is where we will check first. How good is your French?”
“Eh, well, so-so I guess,” I lied. He looked at me blankly after a few moments, and rubbed his eyes with irritation. As if he had planned on doing so, he quickly withdrew a pouch from his pack and tossed me a brown, heavy burlap bag. Opening it quickly I stared at a pile of gold coins, prewar bullion with little corrosion.
“How good is it now?” he said flatly.