Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Manta – Part 9 of 17

© 2011 by Henry Melton

The thumping in her head made it hard to think. She still wasn’t quite sure what happened. Nemo was out and about and taking care of everything, just like he always did. But she wished he could get her an aspirin.
But there was no response. Did he hear her?
Did he fall off in the water? Her pounding heartbeat made the pain in her head ten times worse.
With her hand to her head, she looked around.
Everything was a mess. Things had fallen out of the pantry, the same with the closet. Tools and books and her jars of jam were all underfoot.
But where is Nemo?
There was a sound. The airlock.
She put her hand on the lever, and then hesitated. Would the water come in?
It took her so very long to think it through. No. They were right-side-up in the water, on the surface. It should be okay.
She pushed the lever and opened the door.
He was struggling with a huge spool of rubber tubing.
His face was dark and his jaw was clenched tight.
“Nemo, what’s wrong?”
He let go of the tube he’d been struggling with. Then he kicked it.
“We...I got too close to the lava. Touching close. A big part of my charging system melted.”
He looked up at her with pain written all over his face.
“I can’t recharge the batteries. Once the current charge runs out, I’m dead in the water. Once there’s no power, the Manta becomes unlivable. No way to move. No drinking water.”
He got to his feet and went to the console and shut every power drain down.
She could feel his pain. This was his life, his baby.
“We can call for help.”
“You can. And we need to, to take care of your concussion. If they take me, the Manta is done for.” He took her hand. “I know they'd consider me incompetent. They won't leave me out here in the middle of the ocean with a stranded ship. You'll have to pretend I'm okay. The Manta is okay.” 
“But what will happen to you?”
He sat on the couch and made her sit too. He checked her out again. The bump on her head was as painful as ever.
He shrugged, “I know a sunken ship near here where I can get tools that I can use to work on the charging system. Maybe with repairs I can limp to the little island where the plane dropped you off. If I can get enough juice to keep the water desalinator running, I can live.”
“You’d be like a castaway on the island, stranded.”
“Maybe. With tools, maybe I could get things running again.”
“Then let me stay with you and help.”
“No.” He touched her bruise and she winced. “If there are any complications, you're dead. I can't have that, even to save the Manta.”
He stood up and dug out the sat phone.
“The battery is dead again. I’ll have to recharge it.” He made the connections to the charger. Then, when he cranked up the spine and turned on his navigation system, she could see him sag.
He nodded. “The GPS receiver–everything on the radio spine is out. More damage from the accident.” He checked some connections, then walked back and sat down beside her.
He took her hand, “Brenda, I can make the phone call for help, but I have no way to tell our current location. We were over the volcano, but you were knocked out, and so was I. The unstable winds related to the hurricane have pushed us somewhere, but I can’t make a guess close enough to give co-ordinates to a rescue plane.
“I guess we could send out a general distress call, and let the Coast Guard or their like to determine our position from the radio signal, but then they’d know for sure that the Manta is disabled.”
He stared at the floor. “I guess that’s what I need to do.”
“No. Don’t. This is your freedom. You can’t give that up. I am getting better. The fuzziness has gone away. Isn’t there some other way to get a fixed location? Don’t you have one of those sextants or something?”
He smiled and shook his head. “No. Sorry. I was always going to get around to it, but the GPS was always there for me.
“But I do know where some fixed locations are. If I could get to the island, or sunken ship–I’ve marked them on my maps, then we could tell your plane to go there.”
“But how can you find those places, if you don’t know where we are?”
“Oh, I can navigate by ocean floor landmarks. I do it all the time. The ocean may be featureless up here, but not down there.”
Brenda leaned against him. “Then do that. Go to the sunken ship and get your repair parts.”
“I’m going to turn nearly everything off. It’s going to be a balancing act. I can travel using less energy for a slower pace, but navigating manually, I have to have sunlight strong enough to reach the sea bed. So, no crossing deeps, unless I know exactly where I am.”
First order of business was getting her settled on the couch, with a pillow of folded towels, and a cup of water at hand.
“Stay still as much as possible. Rest for your concussion, and minimize motion to keep my course adjustments small.”
“I can still talk.”
He chuckled. “I couldn’t stop you, could I?”
He checked his directions by the sky, and started them down.
Every now and then, he’d grunt or say, “Ah!”
She questioned everything. He’d see a bed of shells, or the edge of an old coral reef, and he’d recognize it from previous trips. Soon, he’d changed course and cut across an undersea valley, taking them deep enough that all the light changed color, and any fish out the window looked nearly monochrome.
“Every time I change tilt, up or down, I have to run the pumps to shift balance. So I’m taking deep swings to minimize the changes.
“You know, once, just to see if I could do it, I trimmed the Manta absolutely level, then turned the pumps all the way off and sailed by walking forward and backward in the cabin and compressing the ballast air with the foot pump. It worked, but I took a whole day to get a quarter mile. I’d have better luck just making little adjustments to move into and out of the currents–if I had a good map of them.”
“It amazes me how much you do know about this world.”
He shrugged. “I live here.”
“There. I see it.”
She sat up, only a little dizzy by her enforced idleness.
He blew ballast and they rose to the surface. As soon as he dropped an anchor line, he handed her the phone.
“The battery says it’s charged, but the phone will die in about five minutes or so. Talk quickly.”
She pulled out her note pad and called the air charter service. She sweated while they took her latitude and longitude and the description of what to look for.
She added a request for a portable generator and a hundred gallons of gasoline. Her boss might not cover that part, but she could afford it out of her own pocket.
The phone died, but after she had a confirmation.
She handed it back to him. “They’ll arrive in about four hours.”
“That gives me time to make a scavenging run. I’ll take her down.”
The Manta settled into a cleared spot on the floor only about a fifty yards from the strange looking derelict. There was another depression next to them, and she was positive the Manta had left that mark on a previous visit. She could see the name of the ship.
“The Ocean Ray. What do you know about it?”
He did that little shake of his head she’d come to recognize as shorthand for “don’t bother me” or “I’m never going to tell you”.
The burned hull was of a peculiar design, like one of those research vehicles with a split hull at the rear with cranes to raise and lower buoys and shuttle craft. 
And submersibles.
Nemo was already in the airlock, getting on his scuba gear. Brenda looked around the Manta, with all the debris from their accident still on the floor. She walked over and picked up some of the diving gear. She began collecting them to tidy up the place, but she turned each item over in her hands, looking for any clues.
On three of the hand tools, someone had etched OCEAN RAY. On the BC she had used, there was a very faded label, written in pen, “Sally Gerber”. On one of the unused scuba tanks, there was the marking “Oscar Gerber”.
She looked outside and was surprised to see Nemo off to the side of the Ocean Ray, near a pile of rocks. She rapidly dug out her camera gear and snapped the telephoto lens on it. Zooming in, she could see him hovering near the top of the pile–obviously built by hand–where there rested an isolated round port-hole that he must have cut free from the hull of the ship.
She’d have given anything to see if there was some kind of inscription. But she knew what was under that pile, and who authored all the feminine traces she’d found in the Manta.  Sally Gerber.
But does Nemo know? Can he remember it?
She’d read a story long ago about a man who lost his wife and unable to deal with it, lost his memory. Just how broken was her Nemo?

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