Friday, October 14, 2011

The Manta – Part 7 of 17

2011 by Henry Melton

It was too dark to read. It was too dark to do anything but sit, and wait.
He was conscious of her every move, as she stretched out on the couch. It was a different bikini from last time. Even in the dim light, he could tell that much. Even smaller.
“I’m not very good at this,” she said.
“Good at what?”
“Doing nothing. Making time pass.”
“Doing nothing makes it worse. Read, sleep, invent things in your head–those help.”
She sighed. “It’s too dark to read. I can’t sleep, and I don’t invent things, at least not like you do. Is that what you’re doing? Inventing things?”
“Something like that.” She didn’t need to know what he was really thinking about. She talked with her hands, even in the dark. He could see her body move expressively. But maybe he should change the subject.
“What do you do? When you work, what is your brain thinking?”
“Me?” She paused for a moment. She shifted on the couch, obviously still uncomfortable with the heat and still, damp air.
“I’ve got a new job.”
“You’re still a reporter.”
“Right. But I’ve been given a bigger responsibility. Before, I was just the girl who came up with human interest stories, and sometime science related stories in the Miami region. 
“Chasing you down was something of a fluke. It happened because a couple who lived in Miami had gone on a sailing cruise that circled between Antigua, Montserrat, and St. Kitts. They’d flown into and out of Antigua and while they had been low over the water, they had taken a picture that showed the Manta. And it was obviously too large even for a manta ray. I had vacation time, so I talked my boss into letting me check it out, and you know the rest.
“But I’d done other stories that took me out of the city. The hurricane in Haiti was a big one, and I got lots of professional credit for my coverage of the refugees.”
“I hadn’t heard.”
“You...Yes, I guess you don’t follow the news do you? Haiti had a huge earthquake, and then came the hurricane. They have suffered.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Yes, but sometimes to a news organization, bad things are good for business. My stories from the Caribbean put me in a good position when the company decided to increase their regional reporting. I now have a job more focused on this area. So when your volcano happened, it was my job.”
“So what do you do, between chasing after stories.”
She sighed. “A lot of telephone calls. I am building a list of contacts–people I can call the instant something happens. Like when you reported the volcano, I had on my list a professor at the Rosenstiel School in Miami which was trying to increase its position in the world of oceanography. Giving them the scoop, and letting them take the lead notifying the rest of the scientific community made me some friends there, which might come in handy some time in the future.”
He nodded. Not that she could see him. “Networking. I remember. Engineers do it too. Tell me more. Talk shop.”
Maybe it was a mistake to urge her to talk more, because she did it so well, but it was better than brooding about the storm overhead, or about other things...long gone in the past.
She talked for hours, and all he had to do was to let her know he was listening.
But he must have dozed off, because a noise woke him. Her bikini top had dropped to the floor. He didn’t look. It was dark. It was hot. He would have stripped off his shorts if she hadn’t been there.
But he couldn’t go back to sleep.
The light snapped on.
He was standing over her, shaking her arm. “Wake up.”
On no. My top. She reached.
“No time for that.” He pulled her toward the airlock. She stumbled, not quite awake.
“What’s wrong?”
He pushed her in the tiny quarters with him.
“The eye of the hurricane. It’s here.” He threw some of the junk that had been riding there into the main chamber. “Here. Put this on.”
It was a BC, a woman’s model. She slipped the rubbery vest on. “I don’t understand.”
“Eye of the storm. Still water. May last an hour, may last three minutes. But we can raise the snorkel and get fresh air.” He pressed a button that probably released it. She could hear something unspooling.
His eyes were bright and alive, and with a zip, the BC covered her breasts.
“You know how to use this?” he asked.
“Yes. Buoyancy Compensator. Inflate or deflate to balance a weight belt.”
He nodded and wrapped the heavy weighted belt around her waist. It was already the correct size.
“We’re going to climb up the main snorkel like a rope, all the way to the surface, and float there until the storm starts up again. Then we’ll come back down. Got it?”
“Yes.” She was finally beginning to understand. Floating on the sea, in the eye of a hurricane! It wasn’t something to miss.
He started the air pump. The main snorkel must have been already at the surface. Then he pushed a button and water began spilling in around them. He fitted a face mask over her head, one with an air line attacked. Then he grabbed the other for himself.
“I have a waterproof camera.”
“No time.” And the water came up over their heads.
They were outside, and although warm, the water was so refreshing compared to the sticky air in the cabin.
He bent over her chest and blew into her BC’s tube until he was confident that she was only slightly lighter than the water. Then he did the same to his.
He pointed up and they started up. He grabbed her belt and pushed her slightly ahead of him,
He’s just wanting to watch my rear end, I bet.
But she climbed as she was told and they were soon at the surface.
She’d gone scuba diving before, and even some tether line swimming like this, but never in the dark. The main snorkel line was welcome in her hands.
Quickly, they were at the surface. His head came up beside hers.
He removed his mask and attached it to the buoy that sported a flag that marked the top of the snorkel line. “Now yours.” She pulled it off and blinked her eyes to clear them.
The surf was hardly ‘still’, but up above, she could see a line of clouds moving off to the side, and the moonlight and stars shone down on them.
His arms were around her, and just for an instant, she thought he was being amorous, but again, he was adding air to her BC, making it more like a life jacket to keep her head above the water.
As his hands slipped free, she looked back up. There was enough moonlight to show both the near and far cloud walls. There was a hint of breeze, but she thought she could feel it getting softer.
“Stay close to me. And stay near the buoy.” He reached over and pushed something, and it began a slow red blink.
She stretched out in the water. “This is marvelous. Have you done this before?”
“Not during the eye of a hurricane. It’s just luck to be at the right place.”
The swells were long and deep, and it was almost like a roller coaster.
“Enjoy it,” he said. “It can vanish in minutes.”
“I still wish I had a camera.”
He laughed and grabbed her vest and kissed her long and hard. She was alive to the moment and returned it.
He paused, and in the moonlight she could see a wave of pain sweep over him. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not.”
He clenched her tight. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” 
She could feel him shake, and it swept over her like the wave that they rode–Whose BC is this? And what is he sorry for?
Things clicked. The Manta was slightly too large for one man, but it might have been the perfect size for a couple. The chair and the couch looked slightly ‘after-market’, like he’d remodeled things for his hermit-like existence. And the two face masks and two breathing lines, and now a female set of scuba gear.
He was still shaking, muttering, “I’m sorry” over and over.
“It’s okay. It’s okay.” She held him gently. More than anything she wished she could call his name.
The mini-breakdown lasted only a couple of minutes.
“I’m okay. Sorry.” He tried to push away, but she held his hand and wouldn’t release it.
“It’s all okay. Just relax in the water. Enjoy the moment.”
He did as he was told.
The giant wall cloud that was coming their direction was lit constantly by lightning streaks, going from one part to the next.
As long as they don’t come down on me.
The lightning scared her less that the idea of Nemo falling apart on her. She had no way to ‘fly’ the Manta, no idea of how to navigate. Likely as not, she’d make some mistake and leave them dead in the water, or worse, too deep to recover.
He mumbled, “I feel like I could just slip free and drift off forever.”
“Don’t you dare!”
He sighed. “I won’t let you down. I’m just not used to emotions. Too many, too fast.”
“Some emotions are good. I liked the kiss, by the way.”
He didn’t reply for a moment.
“I don’t suppose you could let your company think you were just lost in the hurricane, do you?”
She was touched. “Sorry. They wouldn’t believe it. They'd send someone to track me down, and they'd be looking for the Manta. It wasn't a big secret I was fascinated with you.
“And for all the features of the Manta, you didn’t make it camouflaged.”
“I’ll put it on my todo list.”
She smiled. He was coming back. He can even be charming, at times.
She pulled him closer and kissed his cheek. He fumbled a return kiss.
There was a wisp of breeze, and the moon began flickering behind the clouds.
“It’s time.” He pulled the both of them close to the buoy and handed her the face mask. “Get to the airlock. Don’t panic, but don’t dally.” He pushed the release on her BC and vented the excess air. With things to do, he firmed up.
She nodded, with the regulator in her mouth, and began pulling herself down into the darkness, hand over hand.
He promised he wouldn’t let me down.
Below, she could begin to see the light he left on in the airlock.
She felt him move up behind her almost the same time she got to the door. He was all business, getting their lines in, untangled, and closing the hatch. He could hear the main snorkel line being reeled back in as the water around them was being pushed out by the air.
“Ah! It’s cooler inside now.”
“We’ve refreshed the air. Go ahead and shower the salt off.”
She almost forgot to grab up her bikini top as she did as she was told.
Would it be so bad if I did?
But with the BC in her hands, she couldn’t help but remember that there was more to Nemo than just a lone inventor in a submarine. There was something broken about him. And she would have to tread gently.


Mike G. said...

Interesting story.

One small typo: "sometimes to a new organization"... That should be "news", right?

Henry Melton said...

Corrected. Thanks again.

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