Friday, October 7, 2011

The Manta – Part 4 of 17

© 2011 by Henry Melton

“What is it that you do out here?” That’s what she said.
He shook his head. He’d been minding his own business. He’d been tending his little bit of the sea bed, finding what little he needed to stay alive.
And now, what was he doing? He didn’t even know. He’d been cruising an ever-widening circle, seeing places he hadn’t known except from the charts.
Not that he could ever get too far away from ... the center. But still, he hadn’t put this many miles on the Manta since she was first launched.
He put the newspaper aside. He’d read it so many times it was falling apart. The paper stock was a lot worse than in his books. The pantry called to him.
He opened it and smelled the scent of bread. But that was gone. Just crumbs left to remind him. It was a shame that it was only available on land.
The Manta shook. He stumbled, grabbing the pantry door for stability.
What was that?
The water was shaking, churning, but he was nowhere near the surface.
Then it got worse, the Manta lurched and threw him off his feet. He scrambled on hands and knees to the control console.
There were vertical currents in the water, so strong he could see them. And the deck felt hot.
He wasted five long seconds looking around, before adjusting the vanes and steering off to port. The turbulence dropped away. In moments, the deck cooled back to normal.
It was a volcanic seamount, an active one. And a quick glance at his charts showed nothing like it at this location, so it had to be new.
Carefully steering around the red glow he could now see in the depths, he eased closer.
Lava was pouring out of a hundred yard long tear in the bottom of the sea. It squirted out like bright red toothpaste and turned dull and black before it had gone a few feet.
But not before boiling sea water to fierce temperatures and sending rushing plumes upward where they could eventually turn to steam. He had blindly sailed through one of those plumes.
From a safe distance at the side, he watched as the lava showed no slowdown. The black stone being created was building up as he watched.
Most of these Lower Antilles islands were volcano formed. I guess this is the start of a new one.
He visualized bright intelligent eyes and red hair. I bet she’d like to see this.
One thing no one would ever say about the Manta would be to marvel at her speed. She wasn’t a motorboat, because she had no motor, and she wasn’t a racing schooner because she had no sails.
Only her wings and the changes in her buoyancy to move her along. But normally, it was quite fast enough. He could watch the sea move by from his reading chair and be content.
But the trip back to the sunken ship where he’d repaired the aileron had taken him longer than he’d liked. Not that the undersea volcano was likely to abruptly stop, but for the first time in recent memory, he was in a hurry.
He put on the scuba tank and entered the sunken ship through the large access bay at the rear.
The black and blackened corridors screamed at him as he worked his way into the depths with his flashlight beaming a path of safety. He’d been to this ship many times, for tools and repair materials, but parts of the hull he’d avoided since....
There it is.
The doorway was wedged with silt and a few sea creatures that had started building homes in the protected cavity. A few kicks and tugs, and it came free.
This was the chart room, with paper charts and log books now turned to mush. But in the metal locker... He waved a fluttery storm of paper fragments aside. Floating at the top of the locker was a sealed plastic box, still apparently air tight.
Back in the Manta, swaying on the surface, he dried and then opened the box. Inside was a telephone with a long swivelable antenna. He checked the battery. Dead, but there was a charger. He tapped his fingers, staring at the winking led lights as it slowly came up to half-charge.
It was enough. He walked outside, and looked for a satellite.
Brenda rested with her head propped on her palm. It had been a long hard day. Her desk was strewn with maps and lists of phone numbers and post notes covering it all. On her computer, the screen was a mess of windows overlapped so deep she thought there was no end of it.
And then the phone started blinking. She glared at it, tempted to let it roll over to voicemail.
But that’s not the way to clear out her todo list.
She picked it up.
“Hello, Caribbean desk.” That’s what she started calling her new job. Hopefully it would catch on.
“Ah. Brenda ... deMay?”
The voice sounded familiar. “Yes. Hello there.” Pretend she recognized them long enough to figure it out.
“Um. I saw this thing.”
The hesitancy clicked.
“Nemo, is that you?”
“Ah. Well.”
“Oh, yes, I know that’s not your real name. How in the world did you find me?” Did this mean he was on land somewhere? Had he docked the Manta? And could she get a camera person there instantly to take a picture?
“The newspaper article. He....oil platform guy.”
“Oh. So you’ve seen it. Are you mad at me?” She sounded contrite. Maybe she was, a little.
“No. Not that. It’s the volcano.”
She wanted to ask a million questions, but if he were taciturn face to face, it was three times worse over the phone. She did get a few facts. A new volcano was growing, with the co-ordinates. He was still cruising the sea on his own.
And he wanted to show her the volcano.
She promised she get there as soon as she could, although she had to confess that her job tied her down and it might take a while. She asked if she could tell the oceanographers about it.
“Ah. Yes. Fine.” He did sound disappointed she wouldn’t be with them.
But his battery gave out and the call died.
She rummaged through her contacts lists feverishly, and her fingers flew over the keypad.
“Charles! Yes, this is Brenda deMay again. How would you love to owe me a favor?”
Scientists alerted she called out, “Karl! You did say ‘volcanoes’ didn’t you?”
The Mantis anchored near the undersea volcano, carefully positioned to stay well out of the superheated water. He waited, tinkering with the phone.
The battery was damaged. He could charge it 75% according to the charger, but even then it only held the charge for a few minutes. He charged it several times, leaving the phone on, just on the remote chance she would call him back. But after trying that a few times, the battery showed no signs of recovery. He carefully stowed it back in its water-tight container, and went fishing.
A plane flew overhead and wagged its wings at him. He waved back, but there was a nibble on his line, and so he paid attention to lunch.
Fishing with a pole he did for variety. He also had a net. He used to have a spear gun, but one particularly large grouper took the spear in its side and kept on going, leaving him to more traditional methods of acquiring protein in his diet.
Engine noises on the hydrophone woke him the next morning. He surfaced as the fifty foot cruiser approached. The newcomers circled the waters, pointing at the upwelling and the occasional bursts of steam. After they anchored, a couple of men in a zodiac motored over.
“Hello, we’re from the Rosenstiel School in Miami. This is Sam Jakes, and I’m Hank Eagleton. Are you Nemo?”
He frowned. “Ah. Newspaper name. But I called Brenda in Miami.”
“Yes, I’ve read the stories. So this is the Manta?”
He smiled, with pride. “Yes. Winged submersible. I built it.”
Sam asked, “We were wondering if you could show us the lava outflow?”
He nodded.
They all climbed inside, after he pulled the anchor.
The scientists were full of praise for the ship, and the room he had inside, compared to the submersibles that they used.
“Both Scripps and Woods Hole have submersibles on the way. We’re just lucky enough to beat them here.”
He sailed them along the rift and they took pictures for planning their investigations. The young men made an effort to include him in the conversation, but he mainly nodded. He understood what they were saying, but he just didn’t have anything to contribute.
“So, are you going to claim the island, when it breaks the surface?”
He shrugged. “Why should I?”
“Yeah, I guess it would be pretty bleak and barren. No vegetation or fresh water. No soil even, until it collected some.”
Hank added, “Yes. This is just the latest in this chain. There are three more in this series, probably from the same hot spot, off to the north.”
“Where?” he asked. He pulled out his old charts. One was just an ink dot. The others weren’t even marked.
“They’re small. I only noticed them on the big charts when we were packing up to come here. Probably just rocks in the water.”
Sam asked, as they chased down their zodiac and surfaced along side it, “Are you going to be staying here? We could certainly use your help.”
He shook his head. “No, just passing through.”

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