Author : Dan Whitley
Ortega stormed into one of the houses on the outskirts of town, looking for and finding his colleague Pablo, who was mulling over the very thing Ortega had dreaded Pablo would hang on to. “Pablo, we are not taking that thing with us,” Ortega declared, staring into the oblong crate and pointing at the thing inside it.
“You are too superstitious,” Pablo replied calmly. “This is a great find, Ortega. Think of the sensation it will cause back in home!”
“More likely a calamity,” Ortega shot back. “It is the grotesque bi-product of the rituals of the savages. Who would want to see the burned corpse of a man ruined by their godless rites and sacrifices of local savages?” he demanded.
Pablo leaned forward over the crate, the light of the lanterns in the room casting dark shadows over his face. “Ortega… I’ve been examining this corpse for a long while. You know that. But I’m starting to believe…” he poked at the corpse’s chest, “I’m starting to believe this isn’t the corpse of a man.”
Ortega stared hard at Pablo. “Explain.”
“You’ve felt its skin, haven’t you?” Pablo pulled at the skin of the corpse. “It feels like sandstone and moves like stiff leather. Not even burn victims wind up like that. And look here,” he added, rolling the corpse on its side, causing Ortega to dry-heave. “It has a four arms, and hands with three fingers. But the most intriguing feature, my friend…” he said, laying a hand atop its head, “…is the skull.”
The pair leaned in close to the corpse’s head as Pablo began manipulating it. “See, it’s much longer than a human skull should be. And here, its jaw protrudes too much, and its teeth appear to be fused.”
Ortega folded his arms. “Since when are you a physician?”
“I’m not, but I am a man of common sense, and something tells me that this creature is not human.” Pablo left the corpse in the crate and pulled Ortega over to a table. “I took these from the same place we found the corpse. Look at this.” He held up a sphere, roughly the size of an orange, perfectly smooth. “Give me your sword.” Ortega obeyed warily; Pablo unsheathed the sword and held the sphere up to the naked blade. It attached like a drunkard to his bottle.
“It’s a lodestone,” Ortega observed tersely. “What of it?”
Pablo slid the sheath back onto the sword up to where the sphere sat. He grabbed sheath and hilt in a strong grip and said, “Pull it off.”
Ortega grabbed the sphere in one hand and gave it a light tug. It didn’t budge. He pulled again, harder, without success. Frustrated, he gripped the sphere in both hands and played tug-of-war with Pablo for several seconds before finally the sphere came free, sending both men reeling backwards.
“My word,” Ortega said. “That is not natural.”
“I found this near the corpse,” Pablo said, standing and brushing himself off. “There was some other metal around him, stuck in the ground, one of which looked vaguely like a ship’s wheel, but they wouldn’t move. I’m not sure what this all means, but my guess is this corpse is some other, undiscovered race of man. Perhaps someone will know, someday.”
Ortega thought about this, stared a long while at the crate and the corpse it held. Finally he shuddered, shook his head, and made for the door. “I’ll see that it’s loaded onto the San Jose with the treasure. We leave Cartagena to sail back to Spain tomorrow.”
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