Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The Boneless One

by Alec Nevala-Lee

Note: This page only includes a preview of the story. For the full version, please pick up a copy of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Volume 29, edited by Gardner Dozois. An audio version narrated by Josh Roseman is also available for free on StarShipSofa.

“Before we go on deck, I should make one thing clear,” Ray Wiley said. “We’re nowhere near the Bermuda Triangle.”

Trip opened his eyes. He had been sleeping comfortably in a haze of wine and good food, rocked by the minor expansions and contractions of the yacht’s hull, and for a moment, looking up at the darkened ceiling, he could not remember where he was. “What time is it?”

“Three in the morning.” Ray rose from the chair beside the bed. “We’re six hundred miles northeast of Antigua.”

As Trip sat up, Ray was already heading for the stateroom door. A graying beard, grown over the past year, had softened Ray’s famously intense features, but his blue eyes remained focused and bright, and they caught Trip’s attention at once. If nothing else, it was the first time he had ever been awakened by a billionaire. “Come on,” Ray said. “You’ll want your notebook and camera.”

At the mention of his notebook, Trip glanced automatically at the desk, where he had left his papers before going to bed. It did not look as if Ray had tried to read his notes, but even if he had, he would have found nothing objectionable. Trip’s private notebook, in which he recorded his real thoughts about the yacht’s voyage, was safely tucked into the waistband of his pajamas.

Trip climbed out of bed, pulling on his jeans and parka. Glancing at the berths on the opposite bulkhead, he saw that the men with whom he shared the cabin were gone. “Did Ellis and Gary—”

“They’re on deck,” Ray said. “Hurry up. You’ll understand when we get there.”

Trip slid on a pair of deck shoes and slung a camera around his neck. As he followed Ray to the salon, he became aware of a murmur beneath his feet, the barely perceptible vibration of the yacht’s engine, trembling in counterpoint to the waves outside. Upstairs, the lights in the salon had been turned down. As they headed for the companionway, Trip saw Stavros, the yacht’s captain and first engineer, seated at the internal steering station, his broad face underlit by the glowing console.

On the deck of the Lancet, the night was cold and windless. Two men in matching parkas were standing in the cockpit, looking into the void of the North Atlantic. One was Ellis Harvey, the yacht’s marine biologist, a headlamp illuminating his weathered, intelligent features; the other was Gary Baker, a postdoctoral student in microbiology, his pale face framed by glasses and a tidy goatee.

When Ellis saw Ray, he frowned. It was no secret that the two older scientists were not on the best of terms. “We’re going on a night dive,” Ellis said. “Do we need a third set of gear?”

“I’ll pass,” Trip said. He was not fond of the water. “What’s this all about?”

Gary pointed along the centerline of the sloop. “Dead ahead. You see it?”

Trip turned to look. For a long moment, he saw nothing but the ocean, visible only where it gave back the yacht’s rippling lights. Then, as his eyes adjusted, he noticed a brighter area of water. At first, he thought it was an optical illusion, an effort by his brain to insert something of visual interest into an otherwise featureless expanse. It was only the hard line of the stempost, silhouetted against the glow, that finally told him that it was real.

“Lights.” Trip glanced around at the others. “Something is glowing in the water.”

Ray seemed proud of the sight, as if he had personally conjured up the apparition for Trip’s benefit. “Gary saw it a few minutes ago, when he took over the night watch. We’re still trying to figure out what it is.”

“It’s too widespread to be artificial,” Ellis said. “It looks like a natural phenomenon. A luminescent microbe, perhaps—”

Trip was barely listening. In the absence of landmarks, it was hard to determine the distance of the light, which was faint and bluish green, but it seemed at least a mile away. It was neither constant or uniform, but had patches of greater or lesser brightness, which flickered in a regular pattern. Initially, he thought that the twinkling was caused by the motion of the waves, but as they drew closer, he saw that the lights themselves were pulsing in unison. “It’s synchronized. Is that natural?”

“I don’t know,” Ray said. He grinned broadly. “That’s what we’re here to find out.”

Originally published in the November 2011 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Reprinted with permission. For the story of how I came to write “The Boneless One,” please see here and here.

Written by nevalalee

February 3, 2012 at 1:05 pm

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