There is a particular satisfaction in having a fine camel, a full stock of supplies, and a sense of purpose. Razul has been making his slow way along the coast of Oman for days, looking for anything unusual or out of place. He travels, passes on information, and goes on his way neither knowing nor particularly caring how the information is used. Sometimes events unfold in such a way that Razul recognizes his small part in history. Sometimes his pay comes with thanks and a bonus. Razul asks for nothing more and has no plans to rise or branch out.
It’s a mild, calm evening and as the sun begins to set Razul contemplates setting up camp. It would be pleasant to sleep under the stars but there may be an even better alternative ahead. Yes! It’s a fisherman’s hut, very clearly, and there is the owner, an older man in a red turban, wiry and weathered like most men of his profession.
Razul is invited to spend the night, of course. The poorest are nearly always the most hospitable. The fisherman – Suhail by name – cooks a few small fish over their fire. Razul contributes dried dates and nuts to the meal, which they eat with water only. As they sit by the fire and smoke, Razul casually continues with his mission. As it happens, the fisherman has interesting information – strange lights, rumbles, and unexplained bubbles from the depths of the ocean.
Unlike his host, Razul is not a superstitious man. He cajoles Suhail into giving a tour of the shore. If nothing else, it’s a beautiful night. They stand on the beach watching the waves shimmer under the full moon. It looks peaceful enough, and Razul is about to say as much when he hears a long moan.
“May Allah protect us! A ghost!” Suhail cries.
“Be quiet, you old fool! That was someone calling out.” Razul strains to listen, seeking the direction. The wind and the water make it difficult to pinpoint, but Razul jumps from rock to rock, seeking out the source while Suhail wastes his breath on pointless warnings. He spots something unnatural, a helmet. No, a diver! He leans over the man a sees a familiar face pale in the moonlight. The colonel! Olrik! Razul can hardly believe it.
To Suhail’s credit, when he finally realizes that Razul is struggling with a human form, he skips over the rocks nimbly enough. Together they float and carry the unconscious man to the shore and haul him to the hut. The colonel is dead weight in their hands. Razul is not a devout man, but he prays that this body still holds a spark of life.
“Put him close to the fire, my friend,” Suhail says, throwing down a mat. They wrestle Olrik out of the helmet and wetsuit and set him down as carefully as possible. Razul listens for a heartbeat and is relieved to hear one, faint but steady.
“Allah be praised! You know this man?”
“I do, although I did not think to find him here.”
The old man touches Olrik’s arm and grimaces. “Like a fish. White and cold.”
They look at each other for a moment at a loss, neither having any idea what to do in this situation.
“Is there a doctor nearby? Perhaps a medic of some sort?”
The fisherman twists his beard nervously. “No doctor. There is a village, but I don’t think anyone has an automobile.
They look down at the colonel who hasn’t moved or made a sound. Razul realizes that the decision has been made for him.
“Listen, my friend. He will live or die as Allah wishes, but we need not stand by and do nothing. If he has not awakened by dawn I will ask you to go to the village and seek whatever help you can find there. I will give you money to hire a car or use a radio, whatever you need. In the meantime – ” Razul tries to recall what little he knows of first aid. “I will need some fresh water and something to dry him with.”
Razul makes a series of experiments. He checks the colonel’s head for bleeding or swelling, and finding nothing, dabs away the excess water. He then lifts the limp arms up and down, as if to pump life back into the body. It does no harm, at least. Using the cleanest cloth at hand, he dribbles water into the colonel’s mouth. He keeps it down, which Razul takes as a good omen. Encouraged, he lightly slaps Olrik’s limbs on the theory that this will make the blood circulate.
“What happens to his arm there?” Suhail asks, pointing to a ring of discoloration that circles the patient’s arm and, indeed, most of his torso.
“It looks as if he were snagged in a hose or band or some sort, perhaps an underwater cable.”
“His clothing is strange.” Suhail plucks at the colonel’s singlet.
Razul shakes his head. Only good manners stop him from slapping the man’s hand away. “Western clothing has many parts. Normally they wear two or three garments on top of this.” He frowns at the fisherman. “This is a great man. Have some respect.” He thinks a moment. The colonel must have left in a great hurry for very urgent reasons. If the colonel fails to wake, he will have to carry a message. Tentatively, he checks the colonel’s pockets. No notes, maps, tokens, or tools. Razul sighs and considers. The sky seems a fraction lighter, a hint of blue mingling with the black. Dawn is coming. He had thought to send Suhail into the village, but if the colonel is out of the game, he, Razul, will have to take over as best he can. He will tell someone higher up about his find and they will figure out what to do. Until someone is in a position to give him an order, Razul is paralyzed and frustrated.
“Now would be a good time to wake up, sahib.” Razul kneels down beside the unconscious man and grasps his left hand. “I will do the best I can, but it would be a better job for you. Wake up, sahib. Wake up. Allah, if it pleases you, make him wake up.” He squeezes the hand hard, willing strength into his chief.
The colonel’s breath hitches. He inhales deeply and sighs. His eyes open, aware, curious, alive.
Razul drops the hand.
“At last! Allah be praised.”
Olrik sits up frowning, full of questions, and ready to take charge. Razul can hardly contain his relief.