Origins of the Order of the Star
Fergal, the Loan Shark watched on with interest as the grizzled Zebra Shark examined the sextant Fergal had purchased from the Atlantian nobleman. Occasionally adjusting some circular dials on his mechanical eye, the veteran shark painstakingly investigated the navigational instrument for many long minutes before carefully, almost reverently placing it on a countertop and turning to regard Fergal.
“Thank you for alerting me to this treasure Fergal,” the grizzled Zebra shark spoke, his words slow and considered. “It is indeed a piece from the Nautilus itself, as you suspected when you saw Captain Nemo’s emblem.
Fergal nodded once and frowned in concern. “Poltech, if that Atlantian found this piece, it’s possible he found the location of the Nautilus’s resting place and may find other treasures still.”
“I thought I had recovered everything of value decades ago,” Poltech murmured, “but clearly I missed this and possibly other things, given the vessel had broken into several pieces on its way to the sea floor.”
“What happened to result in its sinking?” Fergal asked with interest, knowing the old Zebra Shark, renowned as the founder of the Order of the Star knew much of the vessel’s history.
“It was the year 1868 as the surface folk record it,” Poltech began in a low voice, and Fergal leaned in closer to ensure he caught all the story from this living legend of his Order.
Prince Dakkar, son of an Indian Raja and a direct descendant of the Sultan Fateh Ali Khan Tipu of the Kingdom of Mysore sat at an elaborate desk in a large study pouring over scientific texts and treatises while the hum of engines powered by sodium / mercury batteries provided a blanket of white noise that he barely noticed. Above him and running the length of the central compartment and main quarters of the vessel ran an aquarium filled with all manner of interesting sea life, including one large Zebra Shark, a juvenile by age, caught and brought on board during an expedition years earlier. It was never known if he had been an especially gifted shark from birth or if Captain Nemo had enhanced his potential through one of his many experiments, but over the course of dozens of expeditions, explorations and rescue missions, he had shadowed Captain Nemo wherever possible on the Nautilus and observed the majority of his many experiments, all but studying over the shoulder of the famed scientist as he floated in the aquarium above his head.
Captain Nemo was not just a gifted scientist ahead of his time, he was also a passionate marine biologist and conservationist, and he had both rescued endangered marine life and discovered ways of enhancing marine life to better protect and defend itself. Indeed, it was his work with the famed biologist Professor Aronnax that led to many new discoveries and technological advancements that a young Poltech would later recover and adopt as his own.
While Captain Nemo was a renowned anti-imperialist with the British Empire receiving most of his ire, it was not a confrontation with this maritime power that brought about his doom, but indeed it was a chance discovery of the City of Atlantis that led to the loss of his beloved Nautilus. On a journey back to India from the Americas, Nemo had decided to take a slightly different course to avoid some underwater volcanic activity and discovered the city, resting on an underwater plateau hidden within a narrow and treacherous canyon system. Only the Nautilus’ advanced navigational systems had allowed Nemo to safely navigate those canyons, which ironically brought him to danger nonetheless through an encounter with the secretive Atlantians.
For days, they pursued him and harried him. Captain Nemo was not afraid of a fight, and had sunk many marauding vessels in his time, but he was not keen on a conflict without merit and thus sought to evade and escape rather than confront them directly. Sadly, they took that choice from him and in the ensuing battle, now many leagues from the actual city of Atlantis, the Nautilus succumbed to her wounds. The Atlantians fared no better and their assault force were completely wiped out as well. Captain Nemo, Professor Aronnax and the crew escaped aboard small pods that made it to the surface. I escaped a now broken aquarium along with the other aquatic friends I had made aboard the vessel and said my farewells to Nemo at the surface before leading my friends away to safety.
Nemo charged me that day with recovering what I could from the Nautilus and continuing his work, but this time, permanently beneath the waves. I was at a loss as to how to even begin such a task and spent months living near the remains of Nautilus as I recovered what I could from the wreckage spread out over a wide expanse of seabed. Books, devices, experiment notes, treatises, and successfully mutated marine life friends were all gathered and hidden within a cave system, but I was just one shark, and the thought of continuing the work of one of the world’s greatest scientific minds, swamped me and left me with little hope.
It was at that time, that I received a special visitor that changed the course of the rest of my life. A mermaid named Vilaya, daughter of Nammu, the Mermaid Queen herself, sought me out. Vilaya had encountered Captain Nemo years earlier when he had saved her from a fleet of pirates’ intent on hunting her down. The Nautilus had sunk two of their ships before the rest gave up the hunt and fled.
Vilaya respected and felt an obligation towards Captain Nemo, a human I had come to think of as a mentor to my young self. With her magic and connections to the Mermaid Queen, she helped me establish our first base and stronghold; a place where we could carry on Nemo’s work in evolving the defensive capabilities of marine life to better defend against the encroachment of humanity and sub-humanity in the world’s oceans.
Poltech continued the story as he led Fergal on a journey of many days until eventually, they came to what could only be described as a gigantic circular well under the ocean. The seabed floor dropped out of visual range deep beneath the plain they swam over like a surface well would plumb the depths of farming lands to a subterranean water basin.
“We go down here,” Poltech explained slowly as he moved to the edge of the well and cleared away some sand and silt to reveal a long thick line attached to the top of the well. Along the line as it disappeared into the depths of the well were evenly spaced shells attached to the rope. Poltech muttered a few words in a language Fergal did not recognize and each shell along the rope suddenly radiated a strong light, flashing to life: one by one, illuminating the depths of the well beneath them.
“Huh!” Fergal exclaimed with a delighted shake of the head, “don’t suppose I can get me one of those shell ropes?”
“Afraid not,” Poltech responded in a deadpan tone… “Get it? A frayed knot…?” He chuckled to himself as Fergal just frowned and slowly shook his head.
Fergal and Poltech swam lazily towards the bottom of the well, using the shell lights on one wall to guide and illuminate their descent. Before long, they could soon see another light source, this one shining from the very bottom of the well.
“Looks like your Atlantian returned sooner than we would have preferred,” Poltech muttered.
“Well, we didn’t exactly rush here,” Fergal answered with a sigh of annoyance, while casually flexing and unflexing muscles in preparation for a fight. Noticing Fergal’s preparations, Poltech asked a quiet if entirely unnecessary question.
“You think there will be a fight?”
“I’m assuming both of us would prefer to keep the Nautilus wreckage for ourselves and not share, right?” Fergal asked rhetorically.
“Well, certainly,” Poltech answered. “We can’t have this technology abused by those that brought about its destruction in the first place.”
“I’m clearly not as smart as you Poltech, but that spells ‘fight’ to me,” Fergal concluded with a smile.
The Atlantians, dismayed at being disturbed in their looting of this ancient nautical wonder, had seen the rope of shell lights, and quickly prepared themselves for war, confident that their half dozen troops could deal with one Loan Shark and an elderly shark past his prime. That same thought had occurred to Fergal, but then he remembered all the stories of this wizened Zebra Shark he had heard growing up and he suddenly smiled and began to pity the Atlantians.
In two predictable groups of three, the Atlantians split up and tried to gain better angles of fire as they launched their gas-powered harpoons at Fergal and Poltech. Fergal had tensed, ready for the barrage and dove down quickly, rolling to one side as the harpoons sailed harmlessly overhead. Poltech was not as nimble or youthful as Fergal, but he had many more years of cunning and a mind honed by research and discovery. Swimming casually in the same direction, without deviation, he was a sitting duck for the harpoons. Just as they were fired, he pressed a discrete button on a metal bracer clasped to his body. At the touch, a semi-circular field of force and light sprung up in front of Polytech which easily deflected or stopped the harpoons fired at great speed.
Without the harpoons and no time to load replacements, the odds of the battle shifted slightly, although still the Atlantians enjoyed a numerical advantage that should have seen them through. Fergal put on a burst of speed, slamming into the side of one Atlantian as his momentum carried them into the second allowing Fergal to bring his terrible bite into play, closing jaws around an unprotected Atlantian neck. Drawing the stunned Atlantian’s own sword, Fergal finished him, leaving just one of the three to stand against him. The last Atlantian circled Fergal warily, waving a thin bladed sword before him to ward off an attack as he waited for his companions to finish off the old shark and come to his aid. Fergal had a better view of Poltech’s ensuing battle and was as content to see it finish as the Atlantian, a fact that did manage to dent the Atlantian’s confidence.
Poltech approached the three Atlantians slowly, noting how close they were to each other as he drew a small item from his belt and pointed it at them. The Atlantians tensed as he pointed and activated the item and then they all laughed uproariously as only a few thin tendrils emerged from the device. Their delay was costly, as the tendrils, designed from the box jellyfish elongated themselves at speed and quickly wrapped about the arms and upper torso of the Atlantians. The venom from the box jellyfish was painful, but not deadly to the Atlantians and the sticky tendrils wrapped around them just served to enrage them to a murderous fury towards Poltech.
Another activation of the device followed quickly however and suddenly the tendrils took on another feature from marine life Poltech had spent his career studying, the electric eel. The three Atlantians jerked spasmodically several times as their flesh and organs were cooked by the surging electrical currents. Poltech released the tendrils from the device and stayed clear of the dying Atlantians to avoid any of the dissipating electrical field.
The sole Atlantian gaped in horror at his three companions which gave Fergal all the time he needed to close the distance and run his sword through the Atlantians chest, ending the struggle mere moments after it had begun.
“Well, this is a sour turn of events indeed,” Complained the Atlantian Nobleman as he emerged from the broken forward compartment of the Nautilus to confront Fergal and Poltech.
Turning to face him, the two sharks regarded the Atlantian, noting his smug smile despite the chagrined words and paused to better assess the situation.
Looking around cautiously, the Atlantian nobleman continued with rising levels of confidence, “No Snippy around to help you Fergal? Just this decrepit old fossil shark here.”
“Good to see you too,” Fergal shrugged in response. “Found some more treasures to sell for doubloons perhaps?”
“This wreck is claimed for Atlantis, yes,” The nobleman began imperiously, “and, you will pay for the murder of my escort.”
“Your escort attacked first, as well you know,” Fergal fired back.
“An interesting detail, but one which you won’t live to share Fergal,” he finished triumphantly, brandishing an egg-shaped metal cylinder in his right hand.
At sight of the device, Poltech’s fin shot out in a warning to Fergal as he spoke rapidly to try and convey the danger, they were now in.
“Hold Fergal, that is a prototype No 5 Mark 1 Mills grenade, designed by Prince Dakkar and later claimed through a patent by William Mills of London,” he explained, deliberately opting to use the lesser-known identity of Captain Nemo.
“If he pulls that pin, and throws it after seven seconds, we won’t be able to escape the explosion and will be horrible maimed and likely killed.”
“Your fossilized friend speaks the truth Fergal,” crowed the Atlantian Noble as he contemptuously pulled the pin and began a count in his head. “Well, Fergal, it’s been nice knowing…” the final taunt was lost in a horrible explosion that tore the nobleman to pieces as he stood framed in the large broken hatchway of the forward compartment to the Nautilus.
Both Fergal and Poltech were knocked backward by the shockwaves of the blast but were too far away to be hurt from the small pieces of cast iron that erupted from the grenade.
Shaking his head to clear away a ringing sensation, Fergal looked in horror at Poltech, who just shrugged once.
“I could have sworn it was seven seconds, but it must have been five.”
“Huh! Easy mistake to make I’m sure,” Fergal answered with a slight shake to his head. “Well, now we’re here, let’s see what else is left of value and get it back to your base.”
“A sound plan,” Poltech nodded once as they moved carefully back toward the vessel.
“Poltech, is there any chance you could lend me one of those shield devices you used earlier?” Fergal asked politely.
“Hmm, not unless you converted to Order of the Star Fergal, no. Those are special items solely for our Order.”
“Really? We’re on the same side Poltech, after all,” Fergal grumbled, disappointed at the response.
“Same side? Yes. Same Order? No.” Poltech grinned at him as they disappeared into the skeletal remains of the once famed Nautilus.