Rain was bad. The sea, worse. The wet unavoidable. Even in searag slickers and oiled bucket hats, the cold damp reached skin, chilled bones. And in these forever months when breath plumed thick as fog from covered mouths, the frigid wet gave death. From the open boat, three fishermen worried about the fate of the distance stranger floundering on the white-capped leaden waves blown high and angry by the oncoming storm, the captain more so as he turned his face to the east, marking the cleft in the crater wall where the sea drained as a river into the plain beyond, a landmark he was wrung to pass.
Dgord returned his squinting eyes to the drowning man, strained to see beyond the dripping brim of his hat where slanting lines of rain robbed the eyes. The man had stopped thrashing, was likely dead, his weak pings autonomous, nothing more than a beacon. The captain's thick gloved hands clamped the edge of the vaka, the deep hull where the men hunched in the wet. Pulling the dead from the sea was never pleasant; corpses were pregnant with worms, even for the newly dead.
Verca had been the first to receive the beacon as he hauled in the writhing net full of pale sponge-eel from between the leeward akas that stretched to the outrigger. He had shouted alarm, and soon he, Dgord, and Jeiu, had linked and triangulated the source. They argued; Dgord hesitant, for the man floated just beyond the Never Go. Verca stressed their duty to retrieve the seamen before it was too late to give his soul to the sky. The captain knew the lore of monsters was no excuse not to give succor. The dying stranger was a mariner, and a mariner found was a mariner returned, whether Atuka kept his ghost or not.
They tacked the fishing proa toward it, the wind battering their faces.
They saw the body. Learned the man's name was Savan in the data pulse of his implant's ping. But where was his boat? Had it sank? Had the man been pushed from another? Neither of the fishermen saw evidence of any other craft. The rain and mist hid the coastline. Hid other boats. No flashing mast beacons anywhere to be seen. Dgord thrust a hand into the drier inner pocket of his greatcoat and removed the spyglass. He held the clear plank up across his eyes, its corner clips worn and broken so he couldn't affix it to the hanging brim of his dripping hat. The scratched and scuffed surface came alive, and though he cycled through increasing magnifications, he saw nothing but the dark, foamy sea. He lowered his arms and returned the glass. There should be a boat. A wreck at least. Could the fishing acoustic array painted on the bottom of the hull have the power to find the man's vessel? They could only try.
Jeiu also twisted around, anxious eyes scanning the choppy horizon as the bow lifted and fell, erupting spray that joined the cold rain. When no evidence of Savan's boat could be found, the young man turned a nervous face to Dgord, looking for explanation and comfort. Verca also turned to his captain. Nothing needed be said. What happened to the man's boat could happen to them. They too would become home to worms. Or worse.