The Messenger

Jan Burke

The Messenger

Copyright © 2008 by Jan Burke

To my nieces and nephews,

with thanks for all the good they bring to our present day

and will bring to our futures

1

Come to me.

Frightened, Eduardo Leblanc shook his head within the diving helmet, the way a dog would shake water from its fur-trying to rid himself of the voice inside his skull.

Far below the surface of the Caribbean Sea, he had lost contact with the salvage ship, the Declan. The communication unit on his diving helmet had malfunctioned. He had been listening to an exchange between Krantz-the crew’s marine archeologist, the only other diver down on this shift-and the ship. Suddenly the comm unit cut out, and Eduardo heard nothing other than the exhaust of bubbles from his helmet and the usual soft noises of his equipment.

He looked over at Krantz. Krantz was in charge here, supervising the underwater recovery work they were doing on the Morgan Bray, an American merchant ship that had sunk in 1815. The light for video equipment on the archeologist’s helmet was on, as was Eduardo’s. As far as Eduardo could tell, both cameras were still running. Through the faceplate of Krantz’s mask, Eduardo could see he was still speaking to the ship, or at least narrating what his camera was seeing.

Come to me, and all will be well.

This was the second time Eduardo had heard the voice. The same thing had happened on his first dive in these waters, two days ago. The communications device cut out. He heard the voice. He felt afraid, and then-then the fear changed. Now Eduardo’s fear once again began to give way to a sense of anticipation. He looked anxiously between Krantz and a small mound of sand a few feet away, one among many that undoubtedly covered artifacts from the Morgan Bray.

He checked the connector for the communications cable hookup on his air hat-the model was one of the finest available to commercial divers-to ensure that nothing was loose. As he expected, all attachments were secure, although nothing he did brought the transmissions back. He looked back at the mound.

This morning, as he readied for this dive, he told himself that he had only imagined the strange sensations he felt two days ago, and that certainly the voice he had heard was not real. He blamed the experience on a lack of sleep, thought of it as a hallucination-they were not unknown in this profession. The voice was inside his head, and not being heard over the system, or anywhere outside his own skull.

Now he heard it again, and turned back to the mound of sand among the scattered wreckage, feeling quite sure that this was the place the voice wanted him to be. With every passing moment, he felt better about his decision to heed its call. The nearer he came to the mound, the greater his sense of calm contentment. Why had he ever worried about the voice?

The comm unit suddenly came back online, and the archeologist, who had never treated Eduardo as anything but a mule in a diving suit, asked, in a tone of suspicion, what he was doing so far away from where he was supposed to be working.

The voice fed him his lines.

Tell him, “My talking apparatus failed again.”

Eduardo heard himself effortlessly translate this odd phrase to his own wording. “My comm unit went out again,” he said.

Krantz frowned. “That’s dangerous-”

Tell him, “It seems to be working now.”

“It seems to be working now,” he heard himself echo.

Keep him happy, do your work. Come back to me when it is one hour before the time to begin your ascent. I am about to make you wealthy and more powerful than you have ever been in your life.

This now seemed entirely reasonable to Eduardo. He moved away from the mound and he and the archeologist continued their survey work, Krantz ordering him about as usual, until it was an hour before the time for the next team to take a shift. When the next prompting of the voice commanded him to stop what he was doing and walk back to the mound, Eduardo obeyed without hesitation.

“Eduardo!” Krantz said impatiently.

Eduardo looked back at him. A blank look came over Krantz’s face, then he turned and went back to work on recovering what appeared to be a ship’s bell.

He won’t bother you now, the voice said. Listen carefully, Eduardo, and I’ll ensure he never bothers you again.

Eduardo’s radio went out again.

Eduardo decided that the breakdown of the comm unit wasn’t such a bad thing. It was really great not hearing the ship give him orders. Being bossed around was no more fun underwater than it was on the surface.

Later he would wonder why he failed to perceive that the voice in the sea was far more commanding than any of his supervisors’ voices. Right now, it didn’t seem so much to be ordering him as coaxing him.

Do you want what I offer? Riches beyond imagination? Knowledge and power?

In Eduardo’s mind, visions arose. He suddenly saw himself surrounded by beautiful women, pictured himself driving up to a mansion in a luxury car. He saw himself being treated differently, not as a menial laborer, dismissed as a young fool, but as an important person, someone others made way for, someone they admired.

Do you want these things? Truly want them? Do you have the courage to take what is before you, or will you live your whole life regretting that you failed to take this opportunity? I offer you the ability to move in the first circles of society. A life of leisure. The wealth to buy jewels, horses, land-to dress in nothing but the finest clothing. Do you want these, and other pleasures you dare not even dream of now? Say yes, Eduardo. Say yes.

Eduardo vaguely noted that the voice’s accent was British. He frowned. Working in the Caribbean, Eduardo had been around plenty of Englishmen, and this voice didn’t sound like any Englishman he had ever met before. Even the accent didn’t explain how strange his words were, or why it was that when the voice said “horses,” Eduardo thought of race cars.

“Who are you?” Eduardo asked. “Are you the devil?”

Eduardo heard a soft laugh. No, I’m not the devil. Think of me as someone who was cheated, and needs your help to regain what is rightfully his own. I am willing to reward you handsomely for your help.

Eduardo felt a little easier, hearing that. But he asked, “If you’re not the devil, then who are you? What’s your name?”

If you insist on a name-I have most recently been known as Adrian, Lord Varre.

Immediately the thought came to Eduardo that he must never call this being Adrian. He must address him as “my lord.”

Indeed! Now say, “Yes, my lord, I agree to become your servant.”

Eduardo hesitated. If this was all a hallucination, then what harm would it do to follow it through, as one would in a dream? And if not-he suddenly imagined one of the other divers saying yes to the voice, someone else getting all the wealth. His wealth. His race cars.

Riches, Eduardo. Think of going back home and showing them how well you’ve done for yourself.

It did not occur to Eduardo to ask how the voice knew this secret wish of his.

“Yes, my lord, I agree to become your servant,” he said.

He waited for lightning to strike, even here on the floor of the sea. He braced himself, expecting Satan to appear before him, to tell him that he was going straight to hell. Instead, he heard only the soft sounds of the sea and his own equipment. Gradually, he was filled with a sense of well-being. Everything would be fine. He had nothing to worry about.

Excellent. Now, you must recover an object. I will help to ensure that no one knows you have taken it.

A few hours ago, he would have immediately pointed out all the reasons why it was impossible for him to do such a thing. Now he listened carefully as the voice gave him instructions. Eduardo could no more resist reaching to uncover the object beneath the mound of sand than he could resist his own heartbeat.

The object proved to be a small metal chest, crisscrossed with thick, rusty bands of iron and bearing two heavy locks. He felt excitement, sure that whoever had carried the casket aboard the Morgan Bray had stored something extremely valuable within it-jewels, most likely.

No, I’m afraid you won’t find anything but ashes within, so for the time being this chest must remain sealed. Place it in the canvas bag attached to your belt.

Eduardo did as he was commanded. A sensation of pure bliss came to him. He felt overwhelmed by it, his mind reeling, disconnecting from his surroundings as if he were drugged.

Now, I’m going to call some of my friends to help us. You must not be afraid-whatever slight harm they do to you will not be painful, and will merely ensure that others are distracted. For your part, you must help the other man to ascend to the surface.

Eduardo blinked, an ...

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