Note: Collaboration with Strawberry-Chappy Forever

Chapter 3 - Drawing a Blank

"You-" I tried to say, "You... you're..." I didn't know whether to be delighted of horrified. What is someone supposed to do at a time like this, I asked my brain frantically. What do I say? My mind was drawing a blank. I felt lightheaded and floaty, but at the same time like I had a bull elephant sitting on my lungs. I tried to say something, but it came out more like a dying cat stuck inside a tuba. Kate was smiling sheepishly, and I was vaguely aware of Grey giving me a congratulatory slap on the shoulder.

"Wow, Matt! You're gonna be a father!" He exclaimed.

A father... My mind went from blank to an explosion of activity. A baby? That meant... Had we even talked about children? Children involved blankets and diapers and... Had we even thought about names? Wait, slow down Matt, I reassured myself. That's a long way away.

"How long have you known that you were...?" I finally managed to say, when I realized something. "YOU. You planned this trip so I wouldn't make you relax and take it easy! You- you!" I spluttered frantically. "We're turning around!"

"No way-!" yelled the rest of the company.

"I need to research the cats," said Grey loudly, "so I can pay for Max's school!"

"I need adventure before I'm tied down." said Kate, sticking her nose in the air. "And Wallace here needs the money." The man nodded in affirmation.

"You promised I could be part of the crew!" Max protested from the back.

I stood there, outvoted. "But... it's dangerous!"

Kate shot me a piercing look. "Like that's stopped me before."

"But this is different! You're expecting!" I cried.

"We'll be back home far before anything even begins to be noticeable!" argued Kate.

My twice traitorous crew stood, staring me down, arms folded, except for Max, who was looking slightly to my left.

"We're going." Kate stated. It was an order, not a request.

I gave her a sour look. "I have terms." I growled.

"Such as?"

"Don't be reckless. If I tell you to run away, you do it without question. No risks for you. No arguments."

"Fine." Kate said, grinning, and threw her arms around my neck.

I hugged her close to me. "Oh, Kate." I murmured "Why are you so stubborn?" I ran my fingers through her long auburn hair. Pigs would fly before my Kate stopped being the way she was.

The sky stayed beautiful and clear throughout the day and into the evening. The sun was sparkling in a dazzling display off of the water and around a spray of tiny islands that dotted the horizon. Most of the crew was suppressing yawns. I should have really had shifts, I thought.

Max stood beside me, where I was surveying the seas through the large observation window. She tugged on her ear nervously. "Um, Captain Cruse?"

I started at the formality. "Please don't call me that." I protested. "It makes me feel old. Just call me Matt."

She smiled crookedly. "Does something feel... wrong to you?"

"Wrong how?" I asked. I had, in fact, been feeling a little weird, but I had just taken that as a sign of anxiety of flying my pregnant wife straight into danger.

"I don't know, just... wrong." She said, still pulling on her earlobe.

That struck me as odd. Her ear? ... The air pressure? I glanced over at the barometer mounted on the wall. It was much lower than I had thought. Checking the altimeter, I compared it with the barometer. It didn't match up as normal for this patch of the Pacificus. I leaned over and hit the toggle switch to turn on the sonar sensor.

BEEP... beep... BEEP... beep...

It was at normal intervals, so I knew my altimeter wasn't malfunctioning, and the barometer couldn't be wrong, because, now that Max had pointed it out, I could feel the pressure on my eardrums as well.

"You're right, there's definitely something weird." I raised my voice so that everyone could hear me. "Grey, can you check the crow's nest? Look for anything unusual." Grey nodded and left the room.

About a minute later he was back, out of breath. "There are some wicked thunderheads back there." he gasped. "They're fast-moving and it doesn't look pretty."

I swore under my breath. I should have hired on another person! The only ones of us without a jobs were either blind, or pregnant and too busy surveying the skies for our quarry, the cloud cats.

"Grey, take the controls!" I shouted. The water underneath the ship was getting choppy. "Kate, get away from the window!" before she could protest, I was gone, out the control room door, down the hall, and through another door marked 'catwalk'. I fled across the steel grills that made up the skeleton of the Borealis. Reaching the ladder, I leapt onto it, skipping the first few rungs. In an instant, I was up inside the glass dome of the crow's nest. Looking towards the stern, there was nothing but clear skies, but the other direction was an entirely different story.

Practically jumping down the ladder, I sprinted back to the control car. "We've got to make it to one of those islands!" I cried, reaching for the rudder controls.

"There's a close one to starboard." said Grey.

"Good." I said, pulling the levers to bring us around. "We'll have to tie off to those trees and rocks. As soon as we get close, we jump down and reel her in. The girls stay inside." I ordered. Not even Kate argued with that. "Vent to 90% hydrium in cells one and four." I told Grey.

The Borealis headed at full speed towards the island.