“Keep your heading and speed. A crew will board your vessel shortly,” the Coast Guard said over the radio. That persistent crackle made it hard to hear, but the Captain understood well enough. He returned the receiver to it’s hook and set the heading. Once the auto navigation was running he stepped out to the deck. It was good to see blue skies again. The storm had left him extremely tired, but there was a body to deal with. He had caught a man in his fishing net, now it was time to untangle him.
The Captain pulled at the net to swing it around where he could work on it. Wishing he had the full strength of both legs, he strained with all of his weight to maneuver the body. The floating man, no make that netted man swung toward him. Once it had come about, the Captain stared into the dead dull face for a moment. Although he had seen a few dead bodies over the years, he had never gotten used to the site. The skin of the deceased man was bloated and pale. He was wearing what looked like a skin tight wetsuit, although it had ports and connections on it unlike anything the Captain had seen before. The most striking feature of the cadaver was the size. He was tall, very tall.
“You’re a good lookin’ chap to have to die at sea,” The Captain said as he began to pull at the nets. Within a few minutes he had the body untangled and laid out flat on the deck. He wasn’t sure what to do in this situation. He stared down at the lifeless heap, wondering if he should say a few words. He placed his hand over his heart and spoke a eulogy. “He may have been a good man, he may have been a smart man, but all I know is he’s a dead man.”
The sound of a second motor began to swell from somewhere behind him. The Captain turned and leaned out past the railing. He could see a large Coast Guard vessel in the distance. Coming up fast, a smaller boat bearing the same colors negotiated the waves with agility. The Captain hobbled to the aft of his old rusty trawler, nearly dragging his bad leg. The Coast Guard motor boat came along side.
The Captain stood near the back railing and watched the motored vessel match speed with his own. A crewman leaned out and grasped the railing of the fishing boat and leapt aboard. Three more followed. The Four Coast Guardsmen were aboard before the little boat peeled off and kept a safe distance. The tallest of the Coast Guardsmen spoke.
“I understand this craft encountered a body.”
“That’s correct, It’s this way,” The Captain directed them to follow. He had learned not to be embarrassed by his limp, but he wondered if the men were annoyed at his waddling speed. They were business only types, ready for anything. The Captain was not intimidated by any man, but these guys looked tough. Their black uniforms created a stark silhouette against the endless blue of the sea beyond. The tallest of the four guardsmen spoke up from somewhere behind The Captain.
“Did you hurt yourself in the storm?” The young man asked, obviously referring the The Captain’s limp. “Do you want us to take a look at your leg?”
“I’ve been limping for twenty years. It’s an old deck hand injury.” He slapped his leg and came to a stop at the front of the trawler. A wry smile split his leathery lips. “I don’t think you’d get much out of a peek at this ole’ hairy leg.”
Not a single one of them laughed. Instead of try for another joke, he gestured to the body laying on the deck beneath the hanging nets. With gear in hand, they went to work. Three of the guards stationed themselves over the bloated body. The fourth pulled out a hand held device and began to get information from The Captain.
“May I get your full name?”
“Captain Achilles Liakos. I’d rather not give my middle name. If this story hits the news, I don’t want the boys back at the dock to give me grief about my mother’s bad naming decision.”
“And the name of this vessel?” The Guardsmen requested.
“And can you tell me about how you came upon this body?”
“I was fighting last night’s storm. Off the port bow I caught sight of him. I couldn’t use a grapple because he was too far out. I dropped a line and scooped him up in the net. I didn’t pull him down until just a few minutes ago.”
As he explained the story The Captain watched the other three guardsmen investigating the body. They had cut away the upper part of the suit around the deceased and were kneeling over it. The Captain was about to continue his story but one of the huddled guardsmen interrupted.
“Giles come look at this.”
Apparently the man interviewing the Captain was Giles because he turned abruptly and stepped toward the body that was being examined. Captain Liakos leaned in to hear the conversation.
“Look at his stomach,” one of the men said as he gestured. Giles knelt down low and took a closer look. The Captain leaned over Giles’ shoulder and did the same. The discovery was immediately obvious. The lower region of the dead man’s abdomen was completely smooth. Where there should have been a belly button there was nothing but flat flesh. Giles stroked his chin trying to understand.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Giles remarked. He considered the situation for a moment before he turned to the Captain. “Is there anything you’re not telling us?”
“He was just in the water. I scooped him up,” Liakos explained. “I don’t know anything else.”
Giles looked back to the body and ran his fingers through his own hair. The Captain could tell he was baffled by the corpse. As if he suddenly remembered he had a job to do, Giles began a barrage of questions directed at his team members. Giles recorded the information as he received it.
“Cause of death?”
“On it,” one of the crewmen said. He pulled a camera from his bag and began to take photos. Giles watched for a moment and then remarked.
“Ok, that’s good enough. Let’s bag him. It’ll be forensics problem.” Giles said with a note of resolve. One of the men looked up at him.
“But sir, aren’t you curious.”
“Curious about what?” Captain Liakos asked before Giles could respond. The guardsmen answered with exuberance. The captain thought he saw a tinge of fear in the man’s eyes.
“This guy may not even be human.”
Giles eyed the body for another moment. Although perplexed he didn’t seem to be dissuaded from his mission. He entered a few more notes on his hand held device before stowing it. Once it was away he pulled the radio from his belt and pressed the call button.
“Prepare for transfer,” Giles said. As he reattached the radio to his hip he responded to his crew mate’s question. “It’s not my job to be curious, it’s my job to get this body to forensics.”
The five men stared down for another moment wondering at the mystery of it all. The Captain wished he could have found him alive. He didn’t know what was going on, but he was sure that this belly-buttonless man had stories to tell. The Captain thought this episode was nearly over but quickly changed his mind with what followed.
Suddenly the cadaver took a breath. It was not the deep breath of a body drowned and revived, but instead a shallow inhalation. The Captain blinked, thinking he had imagined it. They all stood still for a fraction of a second before the corpse breathed once more. The team sprang into action. Kneeling around him the four Coast Guardsmen worked frantically.
“The corpse isn’t a corpse,” Captain Liakos whispered to himself as he watched the men work. He stepped back leaning the majority of his weight on his good leg. He had seen enough.
He looked out over the water at the large Coast Guard ship in the distance. His mind rambled through the possibilities. He took a number of deep breaths trying to slow his pounding heart. He tried to tune out the sound of the medical team behind him. In all his years at sea he had never wanted off his own ship more. He briefly considered jumping overboard. Something about this situation made him feel impossibly uneasy. He could not ignore the words that followed. A scratchy unfamiliar voice moaned with loud effect.
“Achilles Poseidon Liakos.” The corpse said.
The Captain turned to find that the undead man was standing and looking at him. The guardsmen stood around him obviously stunned. The Captain looked to Giles and the others, as if to say, “what is happening.” There was no answer in any of their faces, and in fact they were as baffled as Liakos was.
He considered him for a long moment. He thought he might puke. The undead man stepped toward forward, as the guardsmen parted. They watched as if hypnotized. Liakos tried to step backward but the railing prevented him.
“How do you know my name?” Liakos asked.