Friday, November 4, 2011

The Manta – Part 16 of 17

© 2011 by Henry Melton

She’d tried to make a pet of one of the turtles, one with a bite out of his foot, but they churned so much in the tank that she only saw him for a moment and then he was gone.
She sighed and plopped back down on her bench. She’d need to refresh their water in another twenty minutes or so. She was surprised they’d survived as long as they had without her. She guessed her arrival had relieved one of the goons of the babysitting task.
Tap, tap.
She frowned. That sounded close. What could it be? The anchor chain?
She listened.
Tap tap.
Tap tap tap.
That was no random noise. Someone was tapping. She moved her head. It was louder. She stepped a few paces down the walkway and listened, but it was much softer. It had to be just outside.
Hesitantly, she went back to the place it was loudest and tapped ‘shave and a hair cut’. A couple of seconds later, the person outside repeated it.
A person, outside. One of their divers?
I tiny voice in her head screamed that it was Nemo, but she couldn’t let her believe it. He was over a thousand miles away, near Antigua. What would he be doing here?
Chasing me?
Has he come to rescue me?
If so, how?
“Nemo,” she said.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
He would have his hydrophone thingy. Wouldn’t he? Could he actually hear her through the hull?
“Okay. One tap for yes. Two for no. Is this Nemo?”
She gripped the railing as all the strength drained out of her.
“Are you come to rescue me?”
There was no response.
“Do you have a plan?”
Tap tap.
She swallowed as tears threatened to overcome her, just from the idea that he was out there for her. Romantic Nemo, king of the sea, was one of those ideas she had to force out of her head. It was plain she’d gotten herself trapped so far from hope of rescue that she had to face facts. Drown in the tank with her turtles or allow herself to be carted off a life she dare not dwell on.
But she was a survivor. She’d considered escape. She’d made plans. Unfortunately none of them had a chance of working.
Not until now.
“Nemo, don’t think of coming on board. There are about five men with guns.”
“If I can get to the deck, I could jump into the water. Could you rescue me then?”
They had locked her down here, but they told her not to even think of trying to escape. They were far from land, far from any other boat. She’d drown, if the sharks didn’t get her first.
She had to make them leave the hatch unlocked. The latch was simple, but the handle was on the other side. It moved a metal tab to grip the edge of the portal.
Can I wedge it? She circled her limited domain. There was a pair of work gloves.
If they were distracted...
She went back to the Nemo spot.
“Are you there?”
“Can you make some kind of distraction? And I don’t mean one that gets them shooting at you!”
There was a long delay. He was thinking. Then came, Tap.
“Good. How quickly can you put it into action?”
Tap Tap Tap
“Sorry. Is it greater than one hour?”
“Two hours?”
Tap Tap.
“Okay, come tapping when you’re ready.”
He swam back away from the hull. It had taken nearly the full two hours to get everything set up, and he was sick to his stomach. It was complex, and depended far too much on the turtle poachers making mistakes.
But they had to be nervous, this close to shore.
Now he had to wait, counting in his head, while Brenda did her part.
“Help!” she shouted, banging on the locked hatch. “Help! I’m drowning.”
There was no response, she banged harder, until her hands were bloody.
The hatch gears moved.
“What’s going on!”
She screamed, clearly in panic. “The fill valve is stuck. The hold is filling with water! I’m trapped.”
He swore and came down the hatch, knocking her aside. “Get of the way!”
He pushed by her, nose wrinkled at the smell. He found the water valve, and it was indeed stuck. Sea water was pouring in and the turtle tanks were sloshing over their sides. Some were moving around on the deck.
He put his weight behind the valve, and with a twist, it released, as a scrap of cloth caught in the mechanism came loose.
“Get this cleaned up. And get all those turtles back in their tanks.” He struck her on the side of the head and she fell to the ground. 
He was half way up the ladder when he heard a huge bang, metal on metal, as if something had rammed the ship.
Voices cried out in the distance. He was out and slammed the hatch shut. He gave the wheel a tug, but he was so distracted he didn’t notice that it hadn’t spun.
Brenda saw the gears grip the jammed glove, and then release.
It worked. 
Her head still rang from the blow she’d received, but there was no time for babying herself. She edged the hatchway open an inch. There was no one in the corridor. Hopefully they were all outside looking to see what had caused the impact.
She just hoped they were all on the starboard side as planned. She raced out the port side.
“Hey! The girl’s making a run for it.”
Brenda had played this scene in her mind a dozen times. If there was a quick shot on deck, she’d crumple at the railing and never see Nemo, or anyone again.
She banged her knee on the railing, but it was just spice for the adrenaline in her blood.
Bang! There was a shot, but it missed.
And then she was over the side.
The man with the gun looked over the railing. He couldn’t see her.
“The sharks’ll finish her.”
He waved his arm in a circle up to the man in the pilot house. “Let’s get out of here.” Something was going on, and he didn’t like the smell of it. 
The anchor chain rumbled to life.
She looked dazed. Nemo grabbed her and jammed a regulator in her mouth. She gripped it and breathed hungrily.
She’s bleeding! A cloud of red surrounded her and he couldn’t see where the wound was.
He looked around. He had seen sharks, big ones, in the area as he made his preparations. Blood in the water would call them.
He pulled her along, swimming as hard as he could.
Brenda’s eyes widened and she fought him for an instant. Then he saw, there was a shark coming.
He said, “Blood!” in a splash of bubbles before he took the regulator back to get a breath for himself.
Brenda ripped her blouse wide open. Buttons drifted down.
She stripped it off, and he saw it. The blood was coming from the fabric.
He helped. Jeans, underwear, everything, they left it staining the water red as they swam quickly to the airlock.
A swimming set of teeth tore into the clothes, shaking them, frustrated.
Another shark came to join the party, but they were inside.
They collapsed on the deck when the airlock was clear. He had left towels out for her. She clutched them to her.
“Just stay put. I need to get us clear.”
He snapped the fishing line and banked the Manta clear of the ship, and the collection of sharks swirling below it.
“They’ll get away,” she said.
“No they won’t.”
The anchor chain was rumbling and he watched as the fishing net and the airdrop parachute tied to it pulled a collection of rocks and shells and sand and the remaining aqua scooter he hadn’t used to ram the ship’s hull with, into the propellers. By the time the anchor rose, with bottom silt and sand still washing free of it, the net snapped.
There was a rumble in the water and the propellers started to turn, wrapping the parachute and net and debris tightly around the shaft, jamming it so tight the propeller couldn’t move.
“Let’s get some distance. They could still send down divers.”
Brenda smiled, staring at the swirling sharks. “Let them.”

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