The Queen did not lead Charles false when she told him the proto type was like no other vessel in the Royal fleet. The Proteus occupied a small corner of the shipyard, far from the bustle of the docks. Sidled up beside one of the empty wharfs, the ship was nearly invisible, most of it beneath the water. What was visible consisted of cylindrical shapes, from the short vertical hatchway that crested over the height of the dock, to the horizontal tapered cylinder that comprised the bulk of the ship. The silver hull was fashioned with ornate metal work of mythical sea monsters, including a the body of a massive squid that served at the nose of the vessel, its tentacles wrapped back along the sides. It was a work of art, and it made Charles break out into a sweat.

"Close quarters? That ship was supposed to be a theory!"

Captain Pierce finished helping the blind man into the Queen's little death trap before rounding on him. "The Proteus is the future of her majesty's navy. It travels faster than any surface vessel and can remain submerged for nearly two weeks thanks to its state of the art air bladder. We've been running missions for months, I assure you, it is perfectly safe."

"But...but underwater?"

The captain leered at him. "How else are we to find a sea goddess, Mr. Darwin. Come along, we plan to be coasting beside the Dark Continent within a week's time."

He would never forgive the queen as long as he lived.

__***__

Life aboard the Proteus soon assumed an odd routine. For the most part, they left one another alone save for the communal evening meal. Captain Cecil Pierce spent a great deal of time in the small control room of the sub, pouring over maps, making course corrections, and all matter of calculations. Her first mate, in name only, over saw the inner workings of the rest of the ship, doing a wide variety of tasks and chores, the majority of them grimy as he always seemed to sport a fine coat of grease whenever Charles laid eyes on him. The blind man was an interesting case. Brand was the ship's engineer. How he managed such a task continued to puzzle Charles but when he made an offhand comment on the subject at dinner the captain merely snorted: "Would you rather have him as the ship's doctor?"

That brought him to the last member of the crew, one he hadn't met in the pub. Ingrid was the Proteus's Cook/Doctor, though after a few meals he wondered which profession she took up first. Where the captain shared a bit of her first mate's exotic flare, sporting skin the color of refined milk chocolate and hair darker than a crow's wing, Ingrid was her polar opposite. The pale lady's russet colored hair was in a constant messy bun, strands framing her liquid brown eyes. Something about her gaze always made him feel slightly guilty of something, and of the four crew members, she was the most elusive, spending all her time in either the mess or in her quarters.

Despite the tight spacing of the ship, each person was privy to their own tiny room, though one had to crawl into their bunk from the front door. The mess was probably the largest area on the ship, managing to fit a prep area and table. If the crew did partake in social time, it was there, playing cards, smoking, and conversing.

The long days lent themselves to tiny revelations, a conversation filled the empty hours. The captain, in fact, eventually forgave Charles his initial faux pas, though often teased him for his lack of sea legs. Her temper was infamous, as was her tendency to gamble, both which the crew took with a grain of salt. She could only smoke above sea level, so took to chew, spitting in a small silver cup she kept on her person. Yan called her Keto, the Goddess of Storms and Sea Monsters, from the stories of his Greek grandfather. The captain seemed rather proud of the moniker. Pierce revealed she had ancestors from the northern half of the Dark Continent, though some claimed to come from island nations beyond her Majesty's reach. Blind Brand was an Englishman born and bred, a mechanic for the majority of his life. He knew the Proteus like the curves of a woman and handled the ship's steam powered engine with the same delicate care. Ingrid remained a mystery, rarely speaking two words, but the crew was comfortable in her presence. She always sat to the right of the captain.

They were exactly eight days out of port when Ingrid increased her air of intrigue. "We're here."

The captain eyed her 'cook', tapping her nails on the brass coating of the tabletop. "What's it feel like?"

Confused, Charles looked between the two women, uncertain what inferred meaning was happening here.

Ingrid closed her eyes, tilting her head to the side. "Like cold creatures, shedding skin, and...." She hissed through her teeth. "We shouldn't be here. Not this close to sunset."

Captain Pierce sprang into action. "Yan, let's get this vessel to the surface."

Charles stayed seated as the four sprang into action. Even Ingrid made herself useful, helping Blind Brand ease the engine into ascent. He could feel the drag of the ocean in his bones as the Proteus approached topside for the first time since submerging. It was fast enough to make his head spin. The captain rushed through the room to pop open the dripping hatches on the hull, pressurized windows that sealed shut under water. Fresh air smacked him in the face, full of salt and spices. He beheld a vastly different shoreline, unrecognizable from his native England. The Dark Continent. The sun hung low in the sky, painting everything in golden orange light.

"Glass!" The captain yelled. Yan trotted up to her, handing off a spyglass she extended to peer out the windows. The crew came together, watching the shore, awaiting the sunset. Ingrid rubbed her arms, dancing from foot to foot. Charles's had never seen so much emotion from her.

"We shouldn't be here," she repeated.

"Hush, dear," said the captain.

On cue, as the sun sank beneath the horizon, a green flash split the sky, erupting from the ground. The captain blinked the afterimage out of her eyes, frowning to herself.

"Odd, I don't see how this is connected to the phenomenon."

"Uh, captain?"

"There was absolutely nothing out there, not even a hint of movement on shore."

"Captain!"

"Oh, what is it Yan?"

"The scientist is gone."

Indeed, Mr. Darwin was no where to be seen. Ingrid keened, nibbling on her nails. The captain sighed.

"Shite."

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