Michael Tolland did not realize Rachel was hurt until he saw the blood on her arm as he pulled her to cover behind the Triton. He sensed from the catatonic look on her face that she was not aware of any pain. Steadying her, Tolland wheeled to find Corky. The astrophysicist scrambled across the deck to join them, his eyes blank with terror.
Weve got to find cover, Tolland thought, the horror of what had just happened not yet fully registering. Instinctively, his eyes raced up the tiers of decks above them. The stairs leading up to the bridge were all in the open, and the bridge itself was a glass box‑a transparent bulls‑eye from the air. Going up was suicide, which left only one other direction to go.
For a fleeting instant, Tolland turned a hopeful gaze to the Triton submersible, wondering perhaps if he could get everyone underwater, away from the bullets.
Absurd. The Triton had room for one person, and the deployment winch took a good ten minutes to lower the sub through the trap door in the deck to the ocean thirty feet below. Besides, without properly charged batteries and compressors, the Triton would be dead in the water.
Here they come! Corky shouted, his voice shrill with fear as he pointed into the sky.
Tolland didnt even look up. He pointed to a nearby bulkhead, where an aluminum ramp descended belowdecks. Corky apparently needed no encouragement. Keeping his head low, Corky scurried toward the opening and disappeared down the incline. Tolland put a firm arm around Rachels waist and followed. The two of them disappeared belowdecks just as the helicopter returned, spraying bullets overhead.
Tolland helped Rachel down the grated ramp to the suspended platform at the bottom. As they arrived, Tolland could feel Rachels body go suddenly rigid. He wheeled, fearing maybe shed been hit by a ricocheting bullet.
When he saw her face, he knew it was something else. Tolland followed her petrified gaze downward and immediately understood.
Rachel stood motionless, her legs refusing to move. She was staring down at the bizarre world beneath her.
Because of its SWATH design, the Goya had no hull but rather struts like a giant catamaran. They had just descended through the deck onto a grated catwalk that hung above an open chasm, thirty feet straight down to the raging sea. The noise was deafening here, reverberating off the underside of the deck. Adding to Rachels terror was the fact that the ships underwater spotlights were still illuminated, casting a greenish effulgence deep into the ocean directly beneath her. She found herself gazing down at six or seven ghostly silhouettes in the water. Enormous hammerhead sharks, their long shadows swimming in place against the current‑rubbery bodies flexing back and forth.
Tollands voice was in her ear. Rachel, youre okay. Eyes straight ahead. Im right behind you. His hands were reaching around from behind, gently trying to coax her clenched fists off the banister. It was then that Rachel saw the crimson droplet of blood roll off her arm and fall through the grating. Her eyes followed the drip as it plummeted toward the sea. Although she never saw it hit the water, she knew the instant it happened because all at once the hammerheads spun in unison, thrusting with their powerful tails, crashing together in a roiling frenzy of teeth and fins.
Enhanced telencephalon olfactory lobes . . . They smell blood a mile away.
Eyes straight ahead, Tolland repeated, his voice strong and reassuring. Im right behind you.
Rachel felt his hands on her hips now, urging her forward. Blocking out the void beneath her, Rachel started down the catwalk. Somewhere above she could hear the rotors of the chopper again. Corky was already well out in front of them, reeling across the catwalk in a kind of drunken panic.
Tolland called out to him. All the way to the far strut, Corky! Down the stairs!
Rachel could now see where they were headed. Up ahead, a series of switchback ramps descended. At water level, a narrow, shelflike deck extended the length of the Goya. Jutting off this deck were several small, suspended docks, creating a kind of miniature marina stationed beneath the ship. A large sign read:
Swimmers May Surface without Warning
Boats Proceed with Caution
Rachel could only assume Michael did not intend for them to do any swimming. Her trepidation intensified when Tolland stopped at a bank of wire‑mesh storage lockers flanking the catwalk. He pulled open the doors to reveal hanging wetsuits, snorkels, flippers, life jackets, and spearguns. Before she could protest, he reached in and grabbed a flare gun. Lets go.
They were moving again.
Up ahead, Corky had reached the switchback ramps and was already halfway down. I see it! he shouted, his voice sounding almost joyous over the raging water.
See what? Rachel wondered as Corky ran along the narrow walkway. All she could see was a shark‑infested ocean lapping dangerously close. Tolland urged her forward, and suddenly Rachel could see what Corky was so excited about. At the far end of the decking below, a small powerboat was moored. Corky ran toward it.
Rachel stared. Outrun a helicopter in a motorboat?
It has a radio, Tolland said. And if we can get far enough away from the helicopters jamming . . .
Rachel did not hear another word he said. She had just spied something that made her blood run cold. Too late, she croaked, extending a trembling finger. Were finished . . .
When Tolland turned, he knew in an instant it was over.
At the far end of the ship, like a dragon peering into the opening of a cave, the black helicopter had dropped down low and was facing them. For an instant, Tolland thought it was going to fly directly at them through the center of the boat. But the helicopter began to turn at an angle, taking aim.
Tolland followed the direction of the gun barrels. No!
Crouched beside the powerboat untying the moorings, Corky glanced up just as the machine guns beneath the chopper erupted in a blaze of thunder. Corky lurched as if hit. Wildly, he scrambled over the gunwale and dove into the boat, sprawled himself on the floor for cover. The guns stopped. Tolland could see Corky crawling deeper into the powerboat. The lower part of his right leg was covered with blood. Crouched below the dash, Corky reached up and fumbled across the controls until his fingers found the key. The boats 250 hp Mercury engine roared to life.
An instant later, a red laser beam appeared, emanating from the nose of the hovering chopper, targeting the powerboat with a missile.
Tolland reacted on instinct, aiming the only weapon he had.
The flare gun in his hand hissed when he pulled the trigger, and a blinding streak tore away on a horizontal trajectory beneath the ship, heading directly toward the chopper. Even so, Tolland sensed he had acted too late. As the streaking flare bore down on the helicopters windshield, the rocket launcher beneath the chopper emitted its own flash of light. At the same exact instant that the missile launched, the aircraft veered sharply and pulled up out of sight to avoid the incoming flare.
Look out! Tolland yelled, yanking Rachel down onto the catwalk.
The missile sailed off course, just missing Corky, coming the length of the Goya and slamming into the base of the strut thirty feet beneath Rachel and Tolland.
The sound was apocalyptic. Water and flames erupted beneath them. Bits of twisted metal flew in the air and scattered the catwalk beneath them. Metal on metal ground together as the ship shifted, finding a new balance, slightly askew.
As the smoke cleared, Tolland could see that one of the Goyas four main struts had been severely damaged. Powerful currents tore past the pontoon, threatening to break it off. The spiral stairway descending to the lower deck looked to be hanging by a thread.
Come on! Tolland yelled, urging Rachel toward it. Weve got to get down!
But they were too late. With a surrendering crack, the stairs peeled away from the damaged strut and crashed into the sea.
Over the ship, Delta‑One grappled with the controls of the Kiowa helicopter and got it back under control. Momentarily blinded by the incoming flare, he had reflexively pulled up, causing the Hellfire missile to miss its mark. Cursing, he hovered now over the bow of the ship and prepared to drop back down and finish the job.
Eliminate all passengers. The controllers demands had been clear.
Shit! Look! Delta‑Two yelled from the rear seat, pointing out the window. Speedboat!
Delta‑One spun and saw a bullet‑riddled Crestliner speedboat skimming away from the Goya into the darkness.
He had a decision to make.