Monday, October 24, 2011

The Manta – Part 11 of 17

© 2011 by Henry Melton

He sweated in the sun, using a hot knife to seal segments of the rubber tube together. It was slow work, and then he had to test his welds. The wave power system had to flex, and his repairs left the rubber much weaker than it had been originally. He’d created a fifteen foot length system, which was barely long enough to span the distance between wave crests, and it had to be at least that long to even work.
The power from the spinning blades was just a trickle charge to the batteries. His repairs were working, in theory, but in practice, he needed to change out the tubes.
He looked up at the palm trees. I don’t think I can make rubber from that.
A stick jammed into the sand cast a shadow that was creeping closer and closer to a conch shell.
He went over to the waterproof case and turned the sat phone on.
It buzzed. He grabbed.
“Nemo, are you still at the island?”
“If I air-dropped a package offshore, could your retrieve it?”
“If it is close. The Manta doesn’t have much power.”
“Be ready tomorrow at noon.”
“What is it?”
“I’ll explain when I get there.”
He prepared the Manta, burning all but two gallons of his fuel to bring it up to half-charge.
I hope she knows what she’s doing.
He pushed the Manta out of the shallows by hand and climbed on. Without a clear idea of where the drop zone was going to be, all he could do was be ready to move.
Two specks appeared from the west. He waited until a parachute appeared out of the back of one. The plane banked and headed away.
That’s my package. 
He ignored the other plane and tilted the Manta’s nose down, banking to port. In a couple of minutes, he surfaced next to the floating package, about the size of three refrigerators, side by side. He hooked a line to it and pulled the parachute in. That could be useful someday.
The seaplane was landing. With a splash of spray, it turned towards the island.
The Manta was never made to tow packages, but a force is force. It was like trying to sail while anchored, but the package moved. Ten minutes into the struggle, he was close enough for Brenda and the pilot to wade out into the shallows to help.
The three of them dragged the package to ground. He dropped an anchor line for the Manta and waded ashore himself.
Brenda was smiling, but she was worried.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She hugged him, and they kissed. It was a little dazzling.
“Okay. I’ll take that as a yes.”
Brenda still looked worried. She turned to the pilot. “Joe, we’re going to need some time to talk.”
“Sure.” He turned back toward the plane.
She grabbed a satchel from the beach. “Come on, let’s talk in the Manta.”
He helped her up, and they went inside.
“Okay, what’s the big secret?”
She sat on the couch and patted beside her. When he sat, she opened her satchel and pulled out a printed booklet.
“The package outside is a charging system very similar to the one you built for the Manta. This is the technical description.”
He opened his mouth, but nothing made sense. He opened the pages, and flipped through the numbers.
“Where...where did you get this?”
“Frank Hancock gave it to me. To you really. I need you to sign this.”
She held out a sheet. His eyes glazed. Down at the bottom, there was a place for Oscar Gerber to sign.
“It’s important, Nemo. I really didn’t want to have to confront you with this just yet, but it’s worth a lot of money and they wouldn’t let me take it without promising to get your signature.”
He ... couldn’t think. Brenda put a pen in his hand and set the paper on top of the booklet.
“Nemo. My Nemo, we need to have a nice long talk together, someplace quiet and safe and away from all the pressures and deadlines. I hate this, but you’re going to have to do it. This is the only way to keep the Manta, your Manta, alive. You know it. This is life for the Manta.
“Don’t really think about it. Just put the pen on the line and let your hand take over.”
She had her hands on his and moved it to the paper.
He looked at her, looked at her eyes.
“Nemo, do this for me? Okay?”
He blinked. His eyes blurred. He looked down at the paper again.
“You did it! I’m so glad.” She hugged him and took the pen from his hand.
There was a scribble there, but he couldn’t focus to see what it said.
She put the paper away in her satchel.
“Come here.” She put his head on her shoulder and rocked him. “It’s okay. Everything is okay.”
Brenda latched the airlock door behind her. It twisted her up that he was still asleep and couldn’t say goodbye. She paused long enough to check the rope that tied the Manta and the charging station together.
It wasn’t a perfect match for the one he built for the Manta, but she had a couple of Green Wavepower technicians cross check between the Manta designs and their current products to find one that would work.
It was a devil’s bargain. She had promised to hold off reporting this part of the story until Oscar Gerber could talk with Frank Hancock personally. But it was a million dollar part that had been pulled out of their shipping department, delaying their delivery to some town in Maine. He demanded Oscar’s signature on the delivery notice, and it would be charged against Oscar’s fund.
She wanted nothing more than to stay here, to be by his side when he woke up.
But he’s a survivor. I’d probably have curled up and died if my grand plan ended up killing my love. He did the next best thing, but that didn’t keep him from surviving.
Joe was twiddling his fingers with a leer on his face. “We’re going to have a hard time making it on to your destination. Have a nice ... talk?”
“Get your mind out of the gutter, Joe. It was just business. I had to explain the delivery and get his signature. It was complicated.”
He woke with a headache, and trouble remembering where he was.
The island. Yes. Now, I remember. Brenda came to visit.
He got up to look around, but there was a letter resting on the control console.
I have to go to the Cayman Islands for a news special (on turtles) and I apologize for leaving you alone. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Check your phone at noon, and I’ll call when I can.
Until then, I hope you can repair the Manta with the new power unit. I also left you a couple of other presents. We really need to find more time together.
New power unit?
“New power unit!”
Suddenly, he remembered the air drop and the planes.
He snatched up the technical data that rested beside the letter, ignoring the fresh sat phone batteries and the laptop computer.
It was all too good to be true.
He hurried out to crack open the shipping crate.
He caressed the brand new black tubes wound tightly into the crate.
I can make this work.
Frank Hancock examined the papers that had been faxed to his office from a hotel in Grand Cayman.
“Yes, that’s Oscar’s signature. So he’s in the Caymans? I thought he was in Antigua?”
The attorney shook his head. “I don’t care where he is, as long as I don’t see a lawsuit with his name on it.”
He worked until the light faded. His power miserly instincts wouldn’t let him turn the floodlights on to work during the night.
He stumbled back the Manta. But even in the faint twilight, he could see the items on the console.
Fresh phone batteries. Great.
He opened up the laptop. There was a note covering the keyboard.
Nemo, computers may have changed just a bit. Here’s a quick cheat sheet.
It was basically a list of icons and what they represented. About two-thirds were familiar, not that the email or web browser did him a bit of good out here in the middle of the ocean, but the word processor and spread sheet would come in handy. Shortly, he’d have enough electricity to afford it.
The last computer he had was lost when ....
He blinked and shut it down. More things to deal with tomorrow.
Noon, the phone buzzed. With batteries that held a charge, he could afford to turn it on beforehand and not have to watch the ‘clock’.
“Hello, Brenda.”
“I’m so glad to hear your voice! Did you find everything?”
“Yes, I’ve got the power system mostly in pieces–in a good way. I’m using a spreadsheet, and I’m using the new batteries. Do you have time to talk?”
“Unfortunately, not today. I’ve got an interview with some turtle-breeders in a couple of minutes.”
“Long story. I’ll get you a copy of the article when I’m done. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“I’m okay. Getting sunburned, but okay.”
“Great. Talk tomorrow?”
The next day, noon passed with no call. But he was deep in recalibrating the power system and didn’t notice it until later. He was sad she hadn’t called, but the new system had given him fresh batteries for the Manta and he was thrilled at how much better performance he was getting from his systems. The previous batteries had been aging, and he hadn’t really noticed.
The day after that, he had install the new system and was on a test cruise, seeing how well he could recharge in open water with a sea-anchor. He forgot to recharge the phone battery.

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