7:07 P.M.

“God bless Captain Sol,” Cynthea muttered in the control room, jabbing her pencil eraser at different screens as everyone cheered and toasted. “We’ll have to lay in some music behind Glyn’s speech and edit it way down.”

“Yeah, that nearly killed us,” Peach agreed.

“Find some sea chantey thing, like something from Jaws when Robert Shaw is talking about sharks and battleships. Lay it in behind that speech and it’ll be a thing of beauty. Then can it and zap it, Peach. Get it to those bastards in L.A. before the assholes in New York can say no.” Cynthea spoke through her headset to her camera crew. “OK, boys, we’re done. Eat some dinner. Nice work, darlings!”

7:08 P.M.

Spirits soared following the announcement, and when the annoying lights and cameras finally shut down everyone cheered again, sarcastically.

Nell glanced over at the next table.

Still puffed up from his starring debut, Glyn had seated himself across from Dawn. He seemed terribly interested in what she was saying.

Nell stifled a giggle at the almost inconceivable coupling. Dawn looked like she would eat Glyn alive.

Zero sat down across from Nell at her table and commandeered an unclaimed plate of food. Gouging a bite out of a filet of orange roughy, the lead cameraman looked at her. “So what made a gal like you want to be a botanist?” He broke off a chunk of fish and fed it to Copepod.

Nell sipped her ice water as she mulled over his question. “Well, when my mom was killed by a jellyfish in Indonesia, I decided to study plants.”

Zero lifted a forkful of fish to his mouth, surprised. “For real?”

“Of course, for real!” said Andy, who was sitting next to Nell protectively, as always, though it was usually she who protected him.

Nell had persuaded Andy to leave his cabin after his earlier tantrum, and he had changed into a more subdued blue plaid flannel shirt open over a yellow T-shirt with a smiley face on the chest. The vintage shirt said, “Have a Nice Day!” with no ironic bullethole in its head or anything out of the ordinary-just a smiley face waiting for the world to deface it.

Nell squeezed Andy’s wrist and patted Zero’s hand, instantly charming both men with her brief touch.

“My mother was an oceanographer,” she explained to Zero. “She died when I was a kid. I never saw her much, except on television. She was abroad most of the time, making nature documentaries in places that were way too dangerous for children.”

“You’re not the daughter of Janet Planet, are you?”

“Um, yeah.”

“‘Doctor Janet explores the wild planet!’” he said, mimicking the show’s intro perfectly. “Right?” A wide grin spread on the cameraman’s face as he remembered the early color TV series, to which he had been addicted as a boy.

Nell nodded. “Yeah. You remember the show?”

“Hell yeah! It brought full-color underwater photography to TV for the first time! It’s pretty legendary among my kind. So, why isn’t your name Nell Planet?”

Nell laughed. “Our last name didn’t play well on television.”

“So you’re following in your mom’s footsteps.”

“Except that I chose botany,” Nell protested, parrying with her fork. “Plants never eat people.”

“Right on.” Zero snagged a glass of iced tea from the tray of a passing server and raised a toast to her. “Conquer your fears, right?”

Nell toasted him with her water and frowned at the dark horizon. “Something like that.”