by Nick Martens
The trawler sailed out to sea to drown a lost civilization.
That’s was Adria’s theory, anyway.
"I read it on the Red Sphinx’s blob," she told Kathan as she grabbed a bit of carrot off his cutting board and popped it in her mouth. "He says the last ship down from the Helix brought it back."
Kathan stood hunched over the steel counter of the trawler’s galley, prepping for the night’s meal. A plume of shaggy black hair hung over his eyes, and the way he tucked his arms against his body while holding his knife made him look like a dinosaur. Metal bowls of various sizes were scattered around him, holding meats, herbs, and vegetables. On the stove top behind him, butter was melting in a pot over low heat.
Adria went for a piece of celery and Kathan chopped at her finger.
"Red Sphinx? Don’t start on me with that junk again," he said, turning his knife back to the carrot. "What is it this time? Government denies the existence of corn flakes?"
The trawler lurched and Adria braced herself against the hatch to the rec room.
"He knew about Fenrir stone before anyone else," she said.
"That was like five years ago," Kathan said. The smell of foaming butter filled the tiny galley, and he turned to check his pot. "Ever since, he’s been saying we found another one, it never happens."
Adria slid past Kathan into the tight gap between him and the fridge. She opened the door awkwardly against her body, squatted, and stretched her fingertips to pull out the produce drawer.
"I think it’s on this boat," she told him, rummaging.
"Hey, don’t touch anything," Kathan said.
"Yes, chef!" she replied, coming up with an apple, saluting, and closing the fridge with her butt.
"Aw, come on. I ‘m cooking here," Kathan whined.
"I promise I won’t spoil my appetite," she said, and took a bite.
Kathan said nothing. He picked up the cutting board, and with a sweep of his forearm, slid the pile of carrots, onion, and celery into the pot. He pulled a wooden spoon from the coffee can of utensils next to the stove and poked at the vegetables. Adria sighed.
"What, are you pouting? You realize you’re not actually a chef, right?" She leaned over the stove, forcing herself into his line of sight.
Kathan popped the lid off a small tupperware of salt and spread a hefty pinch over the sweating vegetables. He tried to set his face in a scowl but Adria could see the crinkle of a smile forming at the top of his cheeks.
"On this trip I am," he said as his tough-guy act melted into a goofy smirk.
Adria crunched on her apple,”Uh, yeah, and don’t you think that’s kind of weird?”
"Not really," Kathan said, "I’m pretty good. This bolongese is seriously the business." With a flourish, he dashed a serving cup of oregano and garlic into the pot.
"Dude, I am not talking about your bolognese. We’re fisherman, we’re on a fishing boat, but we’re not doing any fishing. That doesn’t strike you as odd?" Kathan’s pot was throwing off impossibly hearty fumes into the small space. Adria felt a little annoyed because it made her apple seem wimpy.
Kathan stirred the pot, “A little, I guess.”
"Oh, just a little. Okay, yeah, well here’s another weird thing: there are men with guns on our boat. I’m gonna go ahead and say that’s more than a little weird." Adria flailed her arms as she spoke, flicking a beads of apple juice across the galley.
"In fairness, there’s only one man with a gun on the boat, as far as I can tell," Kathan noted as he spun towards the counter to grab the bowl of meat.
"What difference does that make?" Adria’s voice nearly cracked.
"Hey, I’m gonna crank the heat here, so you need to move," Kathan said, motioning for her to step though.
"Do not change the subject on me," She poked him in the chest with her index finger. "I’m serious about this."
Kathan threw his hands up like a cornered crook. “Man, relax. I am well aware we are into some weird shit here.” Ardia’s eyes narrowed, but she lowered her finger. “Now will you please get out of my damn way?” Kathan said.
Adria glared at him as she squeezed by. She walked to the counter and leaned against it, speaking to his back as he turned the stove to high.
Adria said, “Okay, so I’ve checked out that gun guy. He’s trying to play it cool, but he’s definitely hanging around the freezer on C deck. Now, we know there’s no fish in there because we emptied our stocks in San Jose, so something else must be going on.”
"Thanks, detective," Kathan said, drumming his empty hand against his leg, waiting for the heat to rise. "And what does the Red Sphinx have to do with this?"
"Here, I’ll read it to you," she pulled her screen out of her pocket and thumbed open her Blobulous feed. Kathan dumped the ground beef into the sizzling butter. Immediately, it began to hiss and spatter.
Adria recited from her screen, “He says, ‘I’ve received word that Mack Tarrian’s lander touched down last night outside of Phoenix. Oddly, The media was not notified of his return, and he made landfall under cover of darkness. Stranger still, this comes just three months after Tarrian departed to scan a new section of the Helix Nebula, an expedition scheduled to run a full year.’”
Kathan asked, “And this affects our freezer how?” He jabbed at the beef, breaking it apart.
"I’m getting to it," Adria said. "Here, ‘My source reports that two vehicles departed the pads around midnight. My source managed to follow them a number of miles West on I-10, towards California, but unfortunately needed to refuel before determining their final destination.’"
"His source had to stop for gas?"
"Shhh," Adria hissed, bringing her finger to her mouth even though Kathan couldn’t see her. She continued,“‘It is vitally important that we determine the location of this convoy. I don’t need to remind astute readers that the last time Mack Tarrian covertly returned from the Helix Nebula ahead of schedule, he brought back an artifact that held the deepest mysteries of the universe.’"
Kathan snorted with laughter, and Adria threw her half-eaten apple at him. It pegged him right in the shoulder, landing with a wet smack.
"Ow!" He said, turning towards her and grabbing at his back. "What the hell?"
"Listen, dummy!" she said, pounding the counter. "This is what I’ve been trying to tell you. He says, ‘I am offering a $50,000 reward for anyone who can provide me verifiable information regarding the current location of Mack Tarrian’s cargo.’"
Kathan stared at her for a second, awkwardly trying to wipe the apple juice off the back of his shirt. He looked confused.
"Wait, let me get this straight," he said. "You’re saying Mack Tarrian’s space junk is in our fish freezer?"
"I’m saying it’s possible," Adria said.
Kathan paused again. The pot behind him was sizzling violently.
Finally, he asked, “But why?”
Adria let out a deep breath.”I have no idea,” she said, turning her palms up in a shrug.
Kathan realized he was still cooking, and whirled back to the pot. Adria continued, “But a lot of things around here don’t add up right now. And you have admit, the details fit.”
Kathan shook the pot back and forth on the burner, scraping at the rapidly browning beef with the wooden spoon.
"Yeah, I definitely don’t have to admit that," he said. Still attacking the pot with the spoon, Kathan stretched back with his left arm to grab a measuring cup of red wine off the counter. He stopped moving the spoon and poured in the wine. The pot hissed, and a cloud of violet steam bloomed in Kathan’s face. He recoiled, then went back to scraping.
"What are you saying, anyway?" Kathan asked. He stepped away from the stove and picked up the last item on the counter — a can of crushed tomatoes, already open. They splashed as he added them to the wine.
"You want to sneak past the guy with the gun and take pictures of whatever’s in the freezer? And then a potentially mythical creature with a conspiracy blob might give us fifty grand?"
Adria nodded, “Pretty much.”
Kathan sprinkled in some more salt, and gave the pot one last stir. He could see small bubbles breaking the surface of the sauce.
"Okay, I’m game," he said.
He turned the heat to low, and set the lid over his pot.