From the air, the flickering outline of the Goya loomed on the horizon. At half a mile, Tolland could make out the brilliant deck lights that his crewmember Xavia had wisely left glowing. When he saw the lights, he felt like a weary traveler pulling into his driveway.
I thought you said only one person was onboard, Rachel said, looking surprised to see all the lights.
Dont you leave a light on when youre home alone?
One light. Not the entire house.
Tolland smiled. Despite Rachels attempts to be lighthearted, he could tell she was extremely apprehensive about being out here. He wanted to put an arm around her and reassure her, but he knew there was nothing he could say. The lights are on for security. Makes the ship look active.
Corky chuckled. Afraid of pirates, Mike?
Nope. Biggest danger out here is the idiots who dont know how to read radar. Best defense against getting rammed is to make sure everyone can see you.
Corky squinted down at the glowing vessel. See you? It looks like a Carnival Cruise line on New Years Eve. Obviously, NBC pays your electric.
The Coast Guard chopper slowed and banked around the huge illuminated ship, and the pilot began maneuvering toward the helipad on the stern deck. Even from the air, Tolland could make out the raging current pulling at the ships hull struts. Anchored from its bow, the Goya was aimed into the current, straining at its massive anchor line like a chained beast.
She really is a beauty, the pilot said, laughing.
Tolland knew the comment was sarcastic. The Goya was ugly. Butt‑ugly according to one television reviewer. One of only seventeen SWATH ships ever built, the Goyas Small‑Waterplane‑Area Twin‑Hull was anything but attractive.
The vessel was essentially a massive horizontal platform floating thirty feet above the ocean on four huge struts affixed to pontoons. From a distance, the ship looked like a low‑slung drilling platform. Up close, it resembled a deck barge on stilts. The crew quarters, research labs, and navigation bridge were housed in a series of tiered structures on top, giving one the rough impression of a giant floating coffee table supporting a hodgepodge of multistaged buildings.
Despite its less than streamlined appearance, the Goyas design enjoyed significantly less water‑plane area, resulting in increased stability. The suspended platform enabled better filming, easier lab work, and fewer seasick scientists. Although NBC was pressuring Tolland to let them buy him something newer, Tolland had refused. Granted, there were better ships out there now, even more stable ones, but the Goya had been his home for almost a decade now‑the ship on which he had fought his way back after Celias death. Some nights he still heard her voice in the wind out on deck. If and when the ghosts ever disappeared, Tolland would consider another ship.
When the chopper finally set down on the Goyas stern deck, Rachel Sexton felt only half‑relieved. The good news was that she was no longer flying over the ocean. The bad news was that she was now standing on it. She fought off the shaky sensation in her legs as she climbed onto the deck and looked around. The deck was surprisingly cramped, particularly with the helicopter on its pad. Moving her eyes toward the bow, Rachel gazed at the ungainly, stacked edifice that made up the bulk of the ship.
Tolland stood close beside her. I know, he said, talking loudly over the sound of the raging current. It looks bigger on television.
Rachel nodded. And more stable.
This is one of the safest ships on the sea. I promise. Tolland put a hand on her shoulder and guided her across the deck.
The warmth of his hand did more to calm Rachels nerves than anything he could have said. Nonetheless, as she looked toward the rear of the ship, she saw the roiling current streaming out behind them as though the ship was at full throttle. Were sitting on a megaplume, she thought.
Centered on the foremost section of rear deck, Rachel spied a familiar, one‑man Triton submersible hanging on a giant winch. The Triton‑named for the Greek god of the sea‑looked nothing like its predecessor, the steel‑encased Alvin. The Triton had a hemispherical acrylic dome in front, making it look more like a giant fishbowl than a sub. Rachel could think of few things more terrifying than submerging hundreds of feet into the ocean with nothing between her face and the ocean but a sheet of clear acrylic. Of course, according to Tolland, the only unpleasant part of riding in the Triton was the initial deployment‑being slowly winched down through the trap door in the Goyas deck, hanging like a pendulum thirty feet above the sea.
Xavia is probably in the hydrolab, Tolland said, moving across the deck. This way.
Rachel and Corky followed Tolland across the stern deck. The Coast Guard pilot remained in his chopper with strict instructions not to use the radio.
Have a look at this, Tolland said, pausing at the stern railing of the ship.
Hesitantly, Rachel neared the railing. They were very high up. The water was a good thirty feet below them, and yet Rachel could still feel the heat rising off the water.
Its about the temperature of a warm bath, Tolland said over the sound of the current. He reached toward a switch‑box on the railing. Watch this. He flipped a switch.
A wide arc of light spread through the water behind the ship, illuminating it from within like a lit swimming pool. Rachel and Corky gasped in unison.
The water around the ship was filled with dozens of ghostly shadows. Hovering only feet below the illuminated surface, armies of sleek, dark forms swam in parallel against the current, their unmistakable hammer‑shaped skulls wagging back and forth as if to the beat of some prehistoric rhythm.
Christ, Mike, Corky stammered. So glad you shared this with us.
Rachels body went rigid. She wanted to step back from the railing, but she could not move. She was transfixed by the petrifying vista.
Incredible, arent they? Tolland said. His hand was on her shoulder again, comforting. Theyll tread water in the warm spots for weeks. These guys have the best noses in the sea‑enhanced telencephalon olfactory lobes. They can smell blood up to a mile away.
Corky looked skeptical. Enhanced telencephalon olfactory lobes?
Dont believe me? Tolland began rooting around in an aluminum cabinet adjacent to where they were standing. After a moment, he pulled out a small, dead fish. Perfect. He took a knife from the cooler and cut the limp fish in several places. It started to drip blood.
Mike, for Gods sake, Corky said. Thats disgusting.
Tolland tossed the bloody fish overboard and it fell thirty feet. The instant it hit the water, six or seven sharks darted in a tumbling ferocious brawl, their rows of silvery teeth gnashing wildly at the bloody fish. In an instant, the fish was gone.
Aghast, Rachel turned and stared at Tolland, who was already holding another fish. Same kind. Same size.
This time, no blood, Tolland said. Without cutting the fish, he threw it in the water. The fish splashed down, but nothing happened. The hammerheads seemed not to notice. The bait carried away on the current, having drawn no interest whatsoever.
They attack only on sense of smell, Tolland said, leading them away from the railing. In fact, you could swim out here in total safety‑provided you didnt have any open wounds.
Corky pointed to the stitches on his cheek.
Tolland frowned. Right. No swimming for you.