He dropped his vest and weight belt in the corner and turned to the controls. He had to check battery levels and other consumables. He knew his own usage patterns by heart, but with the two of them, he needed to check.
When she leaves, it’ll all go back to normal.
She came out of the water closet with a towel draped over her shoulders and a brush in her hand. She carried a large towel for him as well.
“You’ll need to rinse off too.”
He shook his head. “Thanks, but I’m going to conserve fresh water for now. We can’t keep the lights on either.”
She nodded. “Okay, but don’t try to sleep in those wet shorts. I promise I won’t peek.”
After the lights went out, and he fingered his new towel for a while, he did exchange his shorts for a comfortable nearly dry wrap, although he felt her looking at him.
They needed to get some sleep.
“Nemo?” She sounded worried.
“The Manta shook.”
“No problem. We’re safe, but the back half of the storm can be more violent than the front. It’s just turbulence.”
He waited for her to ask him to come hold her. It’s just a fantasy, but with a girl like her, she might.
But she didn’t.
“Do I have it right that you came to me to get pictures of the volcano?”
“Yes. At least that’s what I told my boss.”
“But the volcano pictures is what they expected?”
“You’d be surprised what they expected. But work related–yes, the volcano, and hopefully more back story on you and the Manta. You’ve never explained where you came from, or even what your real name is.”
“Okay. I can get us close enough to take all the volcano photos you want. We’ll leave in the morning. With enough light to navigate by, I can keep us low enough to avoid the trailing edges of the storm.”
The Manta shook again.
Brenda eyes came open, watching Nemo working away at his console. He’d gotten ‘dressed’ again, but she admired the muscles on his back.
Is this anything more than just a fantasy? Should we just take care of business and go our separate ways? I’ve dangled some lures, but he’s not ready to bite.
And long term? I can’t run a news desk from here, and he’s not likely to dock the Manta in North Bay.
She asked, “What are you doing?”
He turned. She was pleased to see him give her a long look. But that was what bikinis were for.
“I’ve got the recharging tail extended. The winds are down, but the surf is still high. Not enough to be dangerous, but we need more juice before we start.”
She got up and rummaged around in the pantry.
“This is like flour?”
“Yes. Kelp based, but it works in the same recipes.”
“So I could make something like pancakes?”
He nodded. “Use the recipe on page 40, but make them thin. No butter, so expect it to be a little dry.”
She found the little hand-written recipe book.
That’s a woman’s handwriting.
Page 40 had strike-throughs and alterations. Without most of the original ingredients, he’d made changes to make do.
She worked slowly, making her own changes, adding a dollop of jam where the old original had something called K-sugar. The stove was designed to heat the surface quickly, but it also cooled quickly. She rushed to lay the batter out and scoop it off as fast as she could. In the back of her mind, she was sure Nemo was growling about the electricity drain.
“Come here and eat, before it gets cold.”
He walked over. No table, so they held their plates.
They had turned out like tortillas in shape and texture. “Right.”
He opened his mouth to talk, but said nothing.
“Oh, nothing. Maybe inappropriate.”
“Say it. We’ll both laugh and that’ll be that.”
He hesitated then said, “Why don’t you stay and be my cook?”
She laughed. “You can come to Miami and answer my telephones for me.”
They laughed again, but not very convincingly.
She put the dishes into the cage, a little sadly. Today was likely the last time they’d be together. She was a reporter, with responsibilities and deadlines.
The trip to the volcano was sedate. She had gotten cleaned up and dressed in her khakis.
“Get your shirt on. I’m going to take your picture when we get near the volcano.”
As they approached the area, she looked for the other vessels, but saw nothing.
He shook his head, “Any surface craft would have likely made a run to avoid the hurricane. They’ll be back in a week or so, I’m sure.”
She took notes as he told her how he’d discovered it, and he flew the Manta through the same upwelling. She was giggly and excited when the craft bucked in the flow, and kissed him quickly on the cheek. He quietly determined to give her more excitement.
They made several passes over the glowing, churning pile of growing lava, with her camera clicking away.
Suddenly, the Manta heaved strongly to the side unexpectedly.
Brenda shrieked, “Nemo!”
The tilt kept increasing and the craft no longer responded to his control. The last thing he remembered doing was slapping at the emergency blow button. Then he fell, hitting his head against the thick glass hull.
Seconds or minutes later, he woke. The Manta was upside down, but she was on the surface.
“Brenda?” He found her laying unconscious against the glass not too far away. There was a discoloration on her temple. He made sure she was breathing, and resting securely, then walked across the curved ceiling to make sense of the controls.
“What happened?” She murmured a minute later. He went to her side and helped her sit against the wall.
“Another upwelling, stronger and closer than the first one. It tipped us over. We're like a turtle on its back.”
“My camera!” He found it for her, and then checked for signs of concussion. She was a little disoriented. She wanted to make sure that the camera was okay, and then take a picture of the shambles inside, but he had to do it for her. He also took a few of her, and her bruised head.
“I need to right the Manta.”
“I've never done it, but I designed for it.”
He started the pumps, emptying the tanks in the port wing and filling those in the starboard side. The ‘floor’ began to tilt, and all the loose items scattered over it started to slide.
“It’s okay, Brenda. Here, let me help you.”
He shifted her over to the wall, which was rapidly becoming the down direction.
“It’s not enough.”
She nodded, but he could tell she was still acting fuzzy.
“Brenda, I have to go outside and help turn the Manta over. You'll have to help. Are you up to that?”
She nodded. “What do I need to do?”
He tapped on the hull.
“When I signal you like this, push this red button.” He helped her walk over to the control console. “No matter what, keep one hand on this railing, okay?”
He went to airlock, glancing back to make sure she hadn’t drifted off. She smiled and waved.
He made sure the airlock door was securely closed and carried an anchor chain slung across his shoulder.
The vertical stabilizing fins made a giant-step ladder he could just barely navigate as he climbed up the port wing. He hooked the anchor chain to an eyelet at the tip of the wing and walked as if he were rappelling to the ‘down’ side of the wing. His weight tilted the wing slightly his way. Hopefully it was enough.
He kicked the wing.
Can she hear that? If not, he’d have to do it all over again.
Then, the pumps came on. He held his position until the wing began to come down. Shortly, the Manta righted itself, dropping him into the water.
He climbed up on the wing. He could see her through the glass.
But she didn't hear him. He turned toward the airlock.