Chapter Six

The bacon fat sizzled in the pan. Raphael peeled and diced an onion and then a  pepper. He whisked eight eggs by hand and, on a whim, added two spoonfuls of ricotta. He removed the bacon and threw the onion into the smoking fat.  

Steam leaped from the pan with a fizz. A small piece of onion peel went in too and he reached to grab it, accidentally dipping his right thumb into the fat, past the nail.

He resisted jerking his hand up too fast. Or crying out. He added the green peppers. Then the eggs. He turned down the heat and scrambled it all together, careful to grasp the wooden spoon without using his thumb.

The tip was bright red and angry. 

He shoved it in a bowl soaking in the sink, and checked to see if Vashti and Isaac had noticed. He didn’t want the attention, besides they didn’t need distracting. 

The two had developed a system. She checked each device and then read out any coordinates it had captured since nine the previous night. 

The phones went quickly. They were only turned on when someone wanted to take pictures or play music. And in the last 36 hours, there were just 10 positions from all five phones. 

Isaac recorded each by marking the position with a penciled “X” and notating each with the coordinates, date and time, and the person who owned the phone.

One of the hand-held GPS units was meant as a backup and had never been on, other than the time Vashti checked them the night before. The other one was programmed to record their position every 30 minutes and had done so until 0700 the day before. 

“So you have the zero-seven hundred position, right?” Vashti said. 

Isaac nodded, marking the position with the designation “GPS UNIT LIVE.”

“Strange,” she said. “This next one is at zero-seven forty-five.”

Isaac marked the position.

“And this one isn’t until 10 in the morning.”

Isaac marked the position and frowned. 

“Give me that a sec,” he said, grabbing the GPS from Vashti.

He thumbed his way through various menus.

“Look at this,” he said, turning the screen toward Vashti.

“And?” 

“See each of those dots on the screen? Each one represents a GPS satellite that the unit is using to triangulate our position. There are nine dots.

”That was at seven. Now, look at this, at 7:45. And at ten too.”

“The 07:45 and ten o’clock positions were calculated on three satellites. Every other position before then was nine, maybe more.”

“So?” 

“So. Those positions will be less accurate. Usually, a fix is accurate to a few meters. With only three, it may be a few hundred meters. Maybe much more. But also why only three? And why all of a sudden?”

The unit contained three more positions. One at five in the afternoon, another at 9:30 in the evening and finally one at eleven. The first two of the three were with three satellites, the last with two, which Isaac didn’t think was even possible.

He marked the last position with an asterisk and an exclamation. 

They both looked down at Isaac’s marks.

“You said a few hundred meters,” Vashti said.

“Or more, I said.”

“So maybe the unit is defective? Here, let’s look at the messenger and see what it has.”

The two went through the positions it had recorded. The pattern was largely the same though the messenger didn’t have a way to see how many satellites the unit was connected to at each fix.

It was programmed to record positions every 15 minutes but it too started missing updates around the same time as the GPS unit.

It did have a couple of fixes overnight but had not recorded a position since two in the morning.

“I don’t know what to make of this,” Vashti said. 

To her, Isaac’s marks seemed like a random mess in the middle of the ocean. Some of the positions from the GPS unit and the messenger, taken around the same time, were nearly one degree of latitude apart — about 70 nautical miles. 

Isaac alternated between chewing on his pencil and tapping the eraser on his forehead, fixated on the differences between the GPS unit and the messenger. 

Vashti grabbed his pencil and wiped it dry on his shirt.  

“This is what to make of it,” she said. 

She leaned over and drew a crooked “S” across hundreds of miles of ocean, marking the eastern end of the “S” with a dark “X.”

“Give or take, that’s where we are,” she said. “Ever visit Morocco? Agadir is supposed to be nice this time of year.”

“Woooow,” Isaac said. “I got lost in our marks. You’re right.”

In the galley, Raphael was finishing wrapping up the eggs inside a dozen tortillas. 

He piled the tortillas on a plate and bellowed: “Breakfast is served. Everyone topside.”

Nils was just finishing taking a few electrical measurements of the wiring going into and around the battery charger, which was attached to a bulkhead inside a locker near the aft head. He called Raphael.

He had various manuals spread out by his feet on the aft-cabin sole.

“Listen, I haven’t even started looking at most of the wiring, and have no real idea what would fuck with the electronics or the compass, but I have found something that I think needs your attention.”

“Lookie, here,” Nils said.  “There is a flashing error code.”

Raphael leaned across Nils’ chest to look at the charger. 

“According to the manual, one long flash followed by six short flashes means there is too much current coming in and it shut off the input. Do you need me to be more technical?”

“No,” Raphael said.

“Also, when I checked the battery, the active battery bank was down a bit. No biggie, but given how little power we are using right now, the solar panels should be producing plenty enough to keep them topped off.

“But, they aren’t charging either,” he said. 

Nils explained how he followed the wires from the charger to the solar panel controller, which was on the other side of the same locker. That too had an error code flashing. That message meant it had overheated and shut down. 

“So right now, we are not charging the batteries?” Raphael said, still balancing the plate of breakfast wraps. 

“That’s what I said. But that’s no big deal. I could bypass it, easy. What’s strange is, the solar panels are producing the max voltage and about three times the amperage they are supposed to produce. They should be maxing out at 100 watts. It’s closer to 300.” 

“Honestly, I am a bit surprised we haven’t had a fire.”

Nils grabbed Raphael’s free hand and pulled it into the locker. 

He winced. “Wait, wait. Let me put this down.”

“The wiring from the solar panels to here is just not designed for that,” Nils said.

Raphael put down the breakfast plate on the bunk and Nils guided his left hand to a box and then two loose wires.

“Don’t let the ends touch. I will tape them over in a sec.”

“Holy shit, Nils. That’s hot.” 

“Yeah. And those wires have been disconnected for five minutes.”

“Could that have caused our problems?”

“Like I said, I don’t think so. But, who knows? That’s a lot of juice. I need to look at a couple of things topside first. Maybe that will shed some light.”.

“Is that safe now?”

“Sorta. For now,” Nils said.

“OK, let’s go up”.

Isaac and Vashti have got something on the charts, he said.

“Let’s all discuss over breakfast.”

Leave a Reply