The Sea’s Dead
The oceans do not like to yield up their dead.
Lettie considered this insight as she prepared for her first dive of the newly discovered site. Time was of the essence – since the E/V Amphitrite and its attachment ROV Rhodos first surveyed the wreck, it had gone through a complete makeover.
Upon first discovery, it had been a treasure trove. The anaerobic environment had preserved the beautiful wooden ship and it seemed completely untouched by shipworm. The ROV had even picked up images of human remains when it took a look inside.
The fact that the water was entirely deprived of oxygen was just another unusual fact, in a laundry list of weird details about this shipwreck. The water should have been rich with life and oxygen, the ship should have been nothing but traces of its copper hull. And it should have been on a traditional shipping line. In fact, the only reason it was discovered was that E/V Amphitrite had been looking for a whalefall.
Lettie could almost see it through the eerily clear water as she looked down from the ship in her scuba gear. The ship, in near perfect condition save for a huge hole in the copper hull. Someone had broken it inwards with great force. That had been Rhodos’ entry point as well. It trailed through the ship in a quick survey and found it filled with the dead, preserved at tables and beds like they had merely been stopped in time, not drowned.
Lettie’s prize example to the funding committee had been a photo of a woman’s body still in an eerily well-preserved gown that floated diaphanously around her, looking out a ship window. Funding came quickly after that.
The ship had been full of artifacts, beautifully preserved pieces of life from when it had been sea-worthy.
Had been. For when E/V Amphitrite returned, it was all gone. The artifacts. The bodies.
They had been so careful not to give the location away! The scientists who’d been watching the telepresence had no way of knowing the exact location of the wreck; no one ever expected them to find a ship out here. And yet, somehow, someone discovered and raided it.
So Lettie asked to go in herself, to see if there was anything salvageable. Rhodos was a good, dependable little ROV, but Lettie was so frustrated and upset that she had to do this herself, with her own two hands.
And maybe find out if the sea itself had been reclaiming its dead before she could take them.
The sun dappled down to the ship, far further than it should have. She stopped at the hull. She could just barely make out that in life, this ship had been named the Tiberinus.
She went to the hole in the hull. Up close, she could see it had definitely been smashed inwards, by something that left jagged imprints along the edges. It reminded her of when she’d impatiently rip into cardboard packages that wouldn’t open easily.
Why, she thought to herself, would thieves take all the bodies? They’d never survive the trip.
Then she noticed movement.
Her heart leapt. The floating woman. It could be her and her dress. There was no other option, really; there was nothing living in this part of the ocean, with its anaerobic environment. She swam further in. The movement seemed to be where the door of the captain’s quarters would have been.
She looked in.
And something looked out.
She would later recall that it wasn’t a face, not really. It had been, once. There’d been so many teeth, so many and so sharp. And those eyes, too big for any human’s head.
The skin on that horrible face had been partly peeled off. Decayed.
Hysterically, Lettie would insist it looked almost like a leafy seadragon. All that skin, floating off the torso, and the long thick tail.
In its arms, it clutched what must have been the captain. Once.
It swam past Lettie, fouling the ship’s clear water with its rotten body, and then it was gone. Taking the captain–who, Lettie would later tell her therapist, must have been its last treasure.
The site was abandoned.
The sea kept its dead.