The attack came without warning. Low out of the southwest sky above the Goya, the lethal silhouette of a gunship helicopter bore down like a giant wasp. Rachel had no doubt what it was, or why it was here.
Through the darkness, a staccato burst from the nose of the chopper sent a torrent of bullets chewing across the Goyas fiberglass deck, slashing a line across the stern. Rachel dove for cover too late and felt the searing slash of a bullet graze her arm. She hit the ground hard, then rolled, scrambling to get behind the bulbous transparent dome of the Triton submersible.
A thundering of rotors exploded overhead as the chopper swooped past the ship. The noise evaporated with an eerie hiss as the chopper rocketed out over the ocean and began a wide bank for a second pass.
Lying trembling on the deck, Rachel held her arm and looked back at Tolland and Corky. Apparently having lunged to cover behind a storage structure, the two men were now staggering to their feet, their eyes scanning the skies in terror. Rachel pulled herself to her knees. The entire world suddenly seemed to be moving in slow motion.
Crouched behind the transparent curvature of the Triton sub, Rachel looked in panic toward their only means of escape‑the Coast Guard helicopter. Xavia was already climbing into the choppers cabin, frantically waving for everyone to get aboard. Rachel could see the pilot lunging into the cockpit, wildly throwing switches and levers. The blades began to turn . . . ever so slowly.
Rachel felt herself standing now, preparing to run, wondering if she could make it across the deck before the attackers made another pass. Behind her, she heard Corky and Tolland dashing toward her and the waiting helicopter. Yes! Hurry!
Then she saw it.
A hundred yards out, up in the sky, materializing out of empty darkness, a pencil‑thin beam of red light slanted across the night, searching the Goyas deck. Then, finding its mark, the beam came to a stop on the side of the waiting Coast Guard chopper.
The image took only an instant to register. In that horrific moment, Rachel felt all the action on the deck of the Goya blur into a collage of shapes and sounds. Tolland and Corky dashing toward her‑Xavia motioning wildly in the helicopter‑the stark red laser slicing across the night sky.
It was too late.
Rachel spun back toward Corky and Tolland, who were running full speed now toward the helicopter. She lunged outward into their path, arms outstretched trying to stop them. The collision felt like a train wreck as the three of them crashed to the deck in a tangle of arms and legs.
In the distance, a flash of white light appeared. Rachel watched in disbelief and horror as a perfectly straight line of exhaust fire followed the path of the laser beam directly toward the helicopter.
When the Hellfire missile slammed into the fuselage, the helicopter exploded apart like a toy. The concussion wave of heat and noise thundered across the deck as flaming shrapnel rained down. The helicopters flaming skeleton lurched backward on its shattered tail, teetered a moment, and then fell off the back of the ship, crashing into the ocean in a hissing cloud of steam.
Rachel closed her eyes, unable to breathe. She could hear the flaming wreckage gurgling and sputtering as it sank, being dragged away from the Goya by the heavy currents. In the chaos, Michael Tollands voice was yelling. Rachel felt his powerful hands trying to pull her to her feet. But she could not move.
The Coast Guard pilot and Xavia are dead.