Monday, October 3, 2011

The Manta – Part 2 of 17

© 2011 by Henry Melton

“My name is Brenda deMay, out of Miami.”
He nodded his head to show that he heard her, but he made no reply.
After waiting she stretched out on the couch and adjusted the drape of the robe over her leg. He made no sign he was watching.
Brenda sat up abruptly when the Manta broke the surface and waves started splashing over the hull. He’d been expecting it. They had made several deep cycles and given the battery level, this was about the limit. He inserted the bookmark and went to the console.
“Can you see my boat?”
“Can you?”
She walked closer to the view. Water was still draining off the hull, and being replenished by wave splashes.
“Oh! I see it. I think. But it’s much too far away. We missed it.”
He nodded. “Drifted to starboard. It’s the aileron you damaged.”
She had her hands against the glass. “Can we get closer?”
“No. We have used up the batteries. I’ll have to recharge. Your anchor interrupted my recharging cycle and it never got topped up.
“I’d recommend just waiting until the Manta is charged, and then I’ll take you to the nearest inhabited island.”
“Oh, no! That’s a rental. I can’t afford to lose it. Plus I’ve got all my camera gear on board. I can’t lose that.”
She turned to him and appealed, “Can’t we charge it a little bit, or something. It’s almost close enough.”
It went against his better judgement. He knew what the Manta was capable of, and now with this leg of the chase completed, he had a much better idea of how fast the boat was traveling.
But he hadn’t faced a woman’s begging in a long time.
“I’ll try it. Only once. If we can’t get it after a ten minute charge, then we’ll never get it.”
He punched the deploy button and the tail uncurled from the spool. Normally he’d anchor in shallows while charging, but there wasn’t time.
The long rubber tail extended out behind the Manta, much like the stinger of the great manta ray, only much longer. Since they weren’t anchored, he went outside on the wing and tossed a sea anchor to slow their drift.
The tail rode with the waves, moving up and down. Inside the long tubes, the water they channeled spun little turbine blades, charging the batteries.
He walked around outside the whole ten minutes, fretting about the girl. If they couldn’t catch the boat, now even farther ahead of them, he would have to locate some place to dump her. Unfortunately, while he was well familiar with the undersea terrain, those islands were places he’d avoided all these years. He was only dimly aware of which ones had which kinds of governments.
He might have to ask her which ones were friendly, and there was no guarantee she’d tell him the truth.
If she asks me to ferry her all the way to Miami, I’ll make her swim from here.
He pulled in the sea anchor line and went back inside, slapping the stow tail button before sealing the door.
“Sit still.” He pointed to the couch.
He adjusted the autopilot with a fudge factor based on his estimate of how much the bent aileron was affecting them, and then pressed go. He went back to his chair and picked up his book.
“What’s you name?” she asked. “And what is it that you do out here, exactly?”
He shook his head.
Although there was no noise, he knew the instant the servos controlling the steering vanes ran out of juice.
He slapped the book together with a noise that made her jump.
“What’s wrong?”
“Out of battery. This is it.”
She looked up. The surface was still far above them. “What’ll we do?”
He opened a hatch on the console and swiveled out a contraption that looked like a unicycle grafted with pipes to the control cabinet. He started pedaling. He could hear the air pushing into the ballast tanks. He supposed she could hear it too, but he didn’t bother to explain.
They broke the surface, just like before, and he kept on pedaling until he was satisfied.
She was already at the windows, moving around, searching.
“There it is.”
He looked over his shoulder. “That’s still half a mile away. I’ll take you to an island after we recharge.”
“No.” She dropped the robe and dashed to the airlock. She must have been watching, because she had the door open before he could get up from the pedals.
He followed as fast as he could, but she was already in the water, swimming away, before he could stop her.
Idiot. Cameras and a boat rental aren’t worth your life.
He watched for a bit. She was swimming in the correct direction. They had surfaced cross-wind from its location. As long as she could make it before the wind pushed it out of range, she had a chance.
He had no illusions he could swim as fast as she could. He was in the water all the time and very comfortable swimming, but she was younger and more athletic. And the Manta was drained of juice. He turned and went back inside. He’d wait and listen. If her boat started, she was alive. If it didn’t, she was dead.
He sat reading. He’d turned on the hydrophone so he could hear any noises through the water. He had enough juice for that at least.
Several pages later, he heard engine noises. He sighed, got to his feet and started pedaling, pumping water into the wing tanks. He wanted to be deep out of her range before she got some crazy idea to bother him again. He certainly didn’t want the tail deployed where she could run her prop across it. Recharging could wait until she was gone.
He waited in the dark for a number of hours before surfacing and extending the tail. The air had gotten stuffy. Everything worked off the batteries, and without juice, he had no fresh air, no drinkable water, and certainly no heat for the grill. Raw fish was okay, but he preferred it cooked.
With that...disturbance...out of sight and mind, his brain slipped back into familiar grooves. He’d need to repair the aileron. And there was one source for the necessary parts. Shortly after dawn, with charged batteries and more tweaks to his autopilot, he set the destination to a familiar spot far from any of the islands.
It took more than a day, with several stops on the bottom to confirm landmarks, but as he drifted to a stop on the floor of the sea, the burned and sunken ship beside him looked just the same as it always had.
Normally, the snorkel tube gave him all the breathing range he needed, but not when crawling around inside sunken ships. An ordinary scuba tank took a while to fill with his under-powered pumps, but after reading another book, everything was ready. He suited up, and swam into the dark hold.
A few minutes later he came out, holding a piece of metal just the right size and composition to replace the aileron.
Editor Karl Hansen tapped his screen. “Are you sure you want to go with this? Everything in unsubstantiated. You don’t even have pictures.”
Brenda shrugged. “I have the aerial photo that started me off on this rabbit hunt, and some lovely beach scenery from Barbuda.”
“But that’s not even the location where you saw him. Nobody’s going to take this mystery man story seriously.”
“But I was there, I rode inside his winged submarine. He saved my life. It’s a lovely story.”
Karl shook his head. “On your own head, then. At least it’s an interesting filler piece.”
She beamed all the way back to her desk, although she felt a qualm. What if Mr. No-name discovered what she’d written?

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