“No sir, there haven’t been any calls”

“Thank you, that’s all.” James waited while the restaurant flickered with low toned conversations. The chime in his wrister pinged out another quarter hour and no new messages. He shifted in his chair and drew the dots of condensation on his glass with a fingernail. With his left hand, he fumbled the little box in his pocket.

Tess pulled the lever and the navigator pit hissed open. “Here she is, the brain of Nemoidia. You’re sure you’ll be able to handle her?”

“Yep, I can take care of it.”

Tess smiled, “Ok, Charlie, but if it’s too much you gotta tell me.” She ruffled his hair, while he elbowed her as close to her ribs as he could reach and bounded over to the foggy window “I’ve never worked with a machine so…” words seemed to fail him, and Tess interjected “ so incredibly advanced, smooth running and above all else” (she kicked over an empty can of sardines) “tidy?”

“Well, I was going to say old, but working for an old lady like YOU, I guess it makes sense” he sneered with a laugh and a learned-since-childhood duck and run.

“Oh I’ll get you! No little brother talks to me like that!” She chased him into the tunnel, letting the fish outside watch in disinterest.

“Charles Downing, I am not old! I’ll get you!” She called out with a smile and chased him, clanging along behind his stomps.

Grabbing the cleanest-looking hatch lever, he called back “Ain’t none-body can catch me, I’m growing longer legs ’n you ever saw!”

Tess caught up to him laughing “Oh no I don’t think…” and rounded the corner just in time to see him shove it open. The taunt vaporized. “Charles NO! Not in there!” Dim blue light spilled through the hatch into the hall.

A woman in a long coat hurried in. James watched her eyes light up when she finally met his. He squeezed the little box in his as she hurried as gracefully as possible to the seat across from him. “It’s been a little while Tess, I’m really happy you were able to come.”

The woman blushed, “I hate the thought of you waiting so long, really I do.”

He smiled and took her hand across the table “Well, dear, I only wanted to ask you a very particular question this evening”

“Wha…?” Charlie’s voice warbled. Tess rested a hand on his shoulder. His eyes were fixed like bolts on a massive tank and the figure of a man floating in green blue fluid like a phantom puppet show.

“Charlie. You remember James, don’t you?”

Tess knelt beside him on one knee and turned his shoulders to face her. “Charlie. Sometimes dangerous things happen to people. James is a good man, a very honest man. I’m not sure who it was yet, but someone wanted to keep him from being honest. So they poisoned him and made him sleep.”

“Sleep, like a nap?” “No Charlie, he’s very sick and it makes him sleep. He’d die outside the fluid”

“Why is he here? Is he why you ran away?”

“Charlie, if there was any other way I would have done it. I didn’t want to leave home, I just knew that he wasn’t going to die for being a good man. I couldn’t let that happen. That’s why I have Nemoidia now. I’ve been through half the scientific underworld looking for people who can help. There aren’t many, but I’d like you to be one of them. I’ll help you with and thing you want to learn, teach you to sail and anything else you want. But I need your help. Because you’re a good man too and I trust you. Can you help me?”

Charlie’s eyes crept over to the man in the tank. “I… I’m not a man. But I’ll help you. But I don’t want to be in here. He scares me. You scare me. I… can I go?”

Tess swallowed hard. “Ok. Charlie. I’m sorry I scared you, really I am.”

Charlie turned to go, and turned back halfway through the hatch. “Does… James dream in there?”

Still kneeling, Tess felt her face heat up. “I don’t know Charlie. One of the doctors said that when folks go through things like this they go back to a happy memory and relive it over and over. I like to think that’s true.”

“But no one’s really sure?”

“No, no one’s sure.”

Charlie turned to the tank. “I hope he is too.” And walked away.

“Oh yes, of course James! Yes, I will!” She nearly fell into his arms “You do know this means you’ll have to put up with me from now on, that won’t trouble you?” he chuckled, “Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.”

Tess dusted off her breeches and listened to him walk away before turning back to the tank. She pressed her hand to the glass and checked the men’s wrister she wore engraved with the letter J. “February 14,” She murmured. “Happy Valentine’s, dear.”