It wasn't so much a beach as a mud flat, running parallel for several miles by high cliffs. Seaview had surfaced just off shore for a few minor repairs. It wasn't a big deal, the repairs in questions were just easier to make on the surface. Admiral Nelson thought it would be a good chance for a few hours liberty and check out the fossil deposits that ran along the cliff face. Tagging along were his daughter Serena and Serena's best friend Wendy Morton. Nelson was trying to get to know his daughter better. He had only learned about her existence six months ago. Despite the fact that she was currently employed as the Institute's only Marine Archaeologist, he had seen very little of her in the past few weeks. She had been working first at a wreck site off the coast of Spain then she was invited to one of the many ongoing sites along the coast of the Black Sea. Just two weeks ago Serena was asked to oversee the moving of a centuries old mummy to a new exhibit hall in Cairo, Egypt. By the time that project was complete, Wendy was screaming for Serena to take a break. Nelson had offered the two girls a ride back to States on Seaview. They were two days out and still cruising the Mediterranean when this minor little problem popped up. Since they were in no real hurry, they were taking their time with repairs while those not immediately needed with the repairs enjoyed a few hours off. Lee Crane and Chip Moron had come along for the chance to stretch their legs and see what had Nelson so excited about.
“Fantastic. I had no idea they were so thick,” Serena was saying as Nelson was explaining the layering of the cliff face. Fossilized shells, bones from fish and the occasional tooth lay in packed layers along the cliff face. Serena was entranced and Harriman felt a surge of pride at having shown his daughter something she had never seen before.
“I come out here every chance I get. There's no telling what you'll dig up,” Nelson replied. Serena was engrossed and the two scientists spent the next forty-five minutes trading stories about what they had seen while they pulled random shells and fossils out of the mud. Harriman noted that if he could get Serena slightly preoccupied, she would, albeit distractedly, drop hints of her background. So far he had heard bits and pieces about one of her pet projects, mapping the bottom of the ocean’s floor off the coast of Bimini.
Serena was completely engrossed in fossil hunting. She never heard the approaching squelching footprints until Wendy's voice broke through her concentration. “Ah, Serena, I found some…what's the word…specimens? Wendy caught Nelson's attention with a jerk of her head. Nelson followed Wendy's gaze, and found himself at a loss for words. It was a sight he had never seen before and he doubt he would ever see again. Mesmerizing and disgusting at the same time, Harriman had never known anything to be so filthy and still be identifiable. Serena on the other hand, never looked up from the cliff face, intently studying the fossil deposits in front of her, gently scraping out something with the tip of her nail.
“Specimen is an acceptable term,” Nelson agreed, returning Wendy's sky blue gaze and doing his best not to make a face.
“What kind of specimens?” Serena asked, a distracted tone in her voice. She wasn't paying Wendy one bit of attention.
“Filthy ones. I was wondering if you had any suggestions on the best way to clean them up? The admiral might be interested in your methods,” Wendy was saying.
Serena's attention was focused on a particularity interesting shell. Why was Wendy asking her about recovery methods? She'd seen her work a million times, why all of a sudden did she need to know cleaning techniques? Well, since her father had only seen her work once before, the least she could do explain her own techniques. He might find it useful at some point. “How filthy? What kind of sediment?” she asked, fingers following the striations of the palm sized shell.
“Mud mostly, and they're in pretty bad shape.”
“Simple really. You can gently hose them off, or just wash them off in the surf if they're not too large.”
“These are fairly good sized,” Wendy explained, casting a smirking glance at the admiral.
“Hose them off then. Just remember, you might want to run the mud you wash off through a mesh, to see if there any other objects to be collected. Sometimes seeds and maybe smaller artifacts can be recovered. Once you get the loose stuff washed off, you'll need to do some careful cleaning. I prefer toothbrushes. They're small and sturdy and work well in cracks and crevices. You'll want to be careful not to damage any delicate protuberances. Once damaged, more often than not, repair is not an option. What on earth did you find?”
By now Wendy was choking with the effort of holding back her laughter. Serena glanced up from her fossil shells to see her father also chortling, trying not to completely give in to his amusement. “Why don't you ask the, ahem, specimens?” Nelson asked. Serena followed her father’s gaze and her jaw dropped.
Standing side-by-side and covered from head to toe with dark slimy mud, were two figures. One was broader in the chest and shoulders then the other, while the second figure was just a little leaner than his companion. There were only two people the slime and filth covered figures could be: Lee and Chip.
Lee grinned, flashing white teeth in the midst of a sea of mud, and cast a glance toward Chip. “Do you have any delicate protuberances?” he asked.
Chip held both arms out in front of him and looked down at himself, then over at his filth encrusted friend. “Maybe one or two. How many toothbrushes do you think she'll need?”