Dark waves crashed over the small fishing boat as the raging storm tried to destroy it. The captain grit her teeth and braced herself against the cabin, her grip was so tight on the canopy she was certain there would be a dent in it once this was all done. She knew that coming out that night was a bad idea, but her friend, Brad, told her it would be a perfect night for squid fishing.
“This storm wasn’t supposed to blow in until tomorrow!” that same Brad yelled over the whipping winds.
The captain tried to answer but got a mouthful of icy seawater instead. Spitting it with a grunt, she opted to focus her attention of keeping the ship upright instead of answering. Brad was right, of course, but she had told him the storm would be early before they left. Another wave smashed into the ship, sending it almost completely vertical before it crested the wave. Brad lost his footing and tumbled towards what was now the bottom of the boat. The captain managed to snag the back of his life jacket, securing herself with her other hand on the boat railing. This left her with no hands to manage the wheel, so as the boat leveled out it was pitched hard to starboard just in time for the next wave to crash into their side.
The small boat capsized immediately. Brad and the captain both tumbled overboard, along with all their gear. The waves churned the two sailors like a washing machine, disorienting them within moments. The captain struggled to find her way back to the surface, but the depths below were just as dark as the night sky. Her hand broke the surface of the water, and she forced her head to follow, just in time for another wave force her under again and fill her lungs with water. She stopped flailing and her movements slowed as she began to lose consciousness.
The captain jolted awake in a strange bed, her heart pounding in her ears like she was still being thrashed around by the storm. She forced herself to calm down using a breathing exercise. As she began to calm down, she started to notice more details about her surroundings. The small room she found herself in was lit by blue crystals that gave off a pale blue light. They weren’t very bright on their own, so there was one every few feet on the wall. There were a few floor-to-ceiling shelves around the room, each cluttered with books, bundles of thread and fabrics, and jars of fermenting vegetables. Sitting in the open window were some potted herbs growing; their leaves gently floating in the breeze.
The captain’s gaze hung on the plants, trying to process the strange sight, as the door to the room opened.
“Omigosh, you’re awake!”
The stranger was wearing a gold, rubbery looking bodysuit with long fins that stretched from her hips to her ankles. Her brown hair was cut in a short bob and tied back behind her head. She was swimming in the middle of the room.
“Y-you’re floating”, the captain stammered out.
“Oh yeah, I forgot how jarring that can be at first. How are you feeling? Are you breathing ok?”
“Breathing ok?”, the captain thought out loud. “Now that you mention it, breathing seems harder than usual.”
“That’s because you’re breathing water. My name’s Scylla, by the way.”
“Wait, breathing water?”
Scylla chuckled before saying, “I’m sure you have lots of questions, but the short version is that you’re in Pacifico. My grandpa discovered some crystals while diving decades ago and used them to settle this village. The crystals light modifies the water so we can breathe it! It’s all really fascinating but I’m not really sure how it works. If you want to know more there’s a scientist that moved here a few years ago that’s been studying the crystals.”
“Woah, slow down, Scylla. How did I get here?”
“Oh, you floated in on a strong riptide. We get those through here sometimes when there’s a big storm on the surface.”
“Was anybody else with me? I had a friend with me on my boat.”
“No, sorry”, Scylla replied softly.
The room deadly quiet for a few long moments.
Scylla finally broke the silence when she said, “well, my grandpa is prepping our riser pod for you. I can show you around town first, if you’d like.”
“No. I appreciate the offer, but I really need to back home and see if I can find my friend. Or what happened to him.”
“Yeah, that makes sense! Sorry, we just don’t get many visitors down here. Especially people my age! The riser is on the other side of town, but it’s a small town. If you’re feeling up to it, I can take you there now.”
The captain gave her limbs some quick diagnostic stretches before gingerly climbing out of bed. Everything seemed to be in working order, just a little bruised and sore, so the two began the trek across the village.
The same crystals that lit her room acted as streetlights as well, which supplemented the faint sunlight filtering in from above. The streets were dotted with small, one-story cottages made of a dark grey stone. Most of the cottages had some sort of garden or potted vegetables growing out front. A few fish darted around above the street.
Before long the duo came up on a more utilitarian building. A short, round building made of stone that didn’t appear to have a roof. Scylla opened the door and inside was an older man spryly tightening bolts and checking readings on a large, copper bell. The bell was tethered to the ground with a thick chain and had large canvas balloons attached all around the top.
“Ah, our young guest is awake. My name is Jack, and I’m glad to see you on your feet!”
“Thank you, I’m a little beat up, but doing ok”, the captain replied.
“Is the riser just about ready, grandpa? She said she had a friend with her when she went overboard and wants to make sure he’s alright.”
“Oh deary! Yes ma’am, I was just finishing up the pre-rise checks. You can begin boarding, lass, but it can be uncomfortable. The bell is full of bonafide air, so you’ll need to get all the water out of your lungs. The crystals make it easier, but it still feels a little like drowning.”
“Good to know”, the captain said shortly. She let out a big breath and climbed under the bell. Scylla followed suit. The two coughed up the last of the water inside.
“I’m going to stay down here. Quick trips to the surface and back are hard for me, but there’s a radio device in the riser, so I’ll keep in touch during your trip.”
“I appreciate it.”
“Due to the pressure, you can’t rise too fast, so the trip will take a while.”
“That makes sense.”
There was a pounding on the side of the bell. Scylla said, “well, sounds like it’s time to go. It was nice meeting you, and I hope you find your friend.”
“Thank you so much for all of your help, I wish I could have stayed longer.”
“Well then, you’ll just have to come back”, Scylla said before ducking out of the bell.
There was a shudder as the chain began to unfurl, beginning the long rise back to the surface world.