Inside the Triton, Rachels head felt like it was being compressed in some kind of medieval torture vise. Half‑standing, stooped beside the cockpit chair, she could feel death closing in around her. Directly in front of her, the hemispherical viewing dome was empty. Dark. The banging had stopped.
Tolland was gone. He had left her.
The hiss of pressurized air blasting in overhead reminded her of the deafening katabatic wind on Milne. The floor of the sub had a foot of water on it now. Let me out! Thousands of thoughts and memories began streaming through her mind like flashes of violet light.
In the darkness, the sub began to list, and Rachel staggered, losing her balance. Stumbling over the seat, she fell forward, colliding hard with the inside of the hemispherical dome. A sharp pain erupted in her shoulder. She landed in a heap against the window, and as she did, she felt an unexpected sensation‑a sudden decrease in the pressure inside the sub. The tightened drum of Rachels ears loosened perceptibly, and she actually heard a gurgle of air escape the sub.
It took her an instant to realize what had just happened. When shed fallen against the dome, her weight had somehow forced the bulbous sheet outward enough for some of the internal pressure to be released around a seal. Obviously, the dome glass was loose! Rachel suddenly realized what Tolland had been trying to do by increasing the pressure inside.
Hes trying to blow out the window!
Overhead, the Tritons pressure cylinder continued to pump. Even as she lay there, she felt the pressure increasing again. This time she almost welcomed it, although she felt the suffocating grip pushing her dangerously close to unconsciousness. Scrambling to her feet, Rachel pressed outward with all her force on the inside of the glass.
This time, there was no gurgle. The glass barely moved.
She threw her weight against the window again. Nothing. Her shoulder wound ached, and she looked down at it. The blood was dry. She prepared to try again, but she did not have time. Without warning, the crippled sub began to tip‑backward. As its heavy engine box overcame the flooded trim tanks, the Triton rolled onto its back, sinking rear‑first now.
Rachel fell onto her back against the cockpits rear wall. Half submerged in sloshing water, she stared straight up at the leaking dome, hovering over her like a giant skylight.
Outside was only night . . . and thousands of tons of ocean pressing down.
Rachel willed herself to get up, but her body felt dead and heavy. Again her mind reeled backward in time to the icy grip of a frozen river.
Fight, Rachel! her mother was shouting, reaching down to pull her out of the water. Grab on!
Rachel closed her eyes. Im sinking. Her skates felt like lead weights, dragging her down. She could see her mother lying spread‑eagle on the ice to disperse her own weight, reaching out.
Kick, Rachel! Kick with your feet!
Rachel kicked as best as she could. Her body rose slightly in the icy hole. A spark of hope. Her mother grabbed on.
Yes! her mother shouted. Help me lift you! Kick with your feet!
With her mother pulling from above, Rachel used the last of her energy to kick with her skates. It was just enough, and her mother dragged Rachel up to safety. She dragged the soaking Rachel all the way to the snowy bank before collapsing in tears.
Now, inside the growing humidity and heat of the sub, Rachel opened her eyes to the blackness around her. She heard her mother whispering from the grave, her voice clear even here in the sinking Triton.
Kick with your feet.
Rachel looked up at the dome overhead. Mustering the last of her courage, Rachel clambered up onto the cockpit chair, which was oriented almost horizontally now, like a dental chair. Lying on her back, Rachel bent her knees, pulled her legs back as far as she could, aimed her feet upward, and exploded forward. With a wild scream of desperation and force, she drove her feet into the center of the acrylic dome. Spikes of pain shot into her shins, sending her brain reeling. Her ears thundered suddenly, and she felt the pressure equalize with a violent rush. The seal on the left side of the dome gave way, and the huge lens partially dislodged, swinging open like a barn door.
A torrent of water crashed into the sub and drove Rachel back into her chair. The ocean thundered in around her, swirling up under her back, lifting her now off the chair, tossing her upside down like a sock in a washing machine. Rachel groped blindly for something to hold on to, but she was spinning wildly. As the cockpit filled, she could feel the sub begin a rapid free fall for the bottom. Her body rammed upward in the cockpit, and she felt herself pinned. A rush of bubbles erupted around her, twisting her, dragging her to the left and upward. A flap of hard acrylic smashed into her hip.
All at once she was free.
Twisting and tumbling into the endless warmth and watery blackness, Rachel felt her lungs already aching for air. Get to the surface! She looked for light but saw nothing. Her world looked the same in all directions. Blackness. No gravity. No sense of up or down.
In that terrifying instant, Rachel realized she had no idea which way to swim.
Thousands of feet beneath her, the sinking Kiowa chopper crumpled beneath the relentlessly increasing pressure. The fifteen high‑explosive, antitank AGM‑114 Hellfire missiles still aboard strained against the compression, their copper liner cones and spring‑detonation heads inching perilously inward.
A hundred feet above the ocean floor, the powerful shaft of the megaplume grabbed the remains of the chopper and sucked it downward, hurling it against the red‑hot crust of the magma dome. Like a box of matches igniting in series, the Hellfire missiles exploded, tearing a gaping hole through the top of the magma dome.
Having surfaced for air, and then dove again in desperation, Michael Tolland was suspended fifteen feet underwater scanning the blackness when the Hellfire missiles exploded. The white flash billowed upward, illuminating an astonishing image‑a freeze‑frame he would remember forever.
Rachel Sexton hung ten feet below him like a tangled marionette in the water. Beneath her, the Triton sub fell away fast, its dome hanging loose. The sharks in the area scattered for the open sea, clearly sensing the danger this area was about to unleash.
Tollands exhilaration at seeing Rachel out of the sub was instantly vanquished by the realization of what was about to follow. Memorizing her position as the light disappeared, Tolland dove hard, clawing his way toward her.
Thousands of feet down, the shattered crust of the magma dome exploded apart, and the underwater volcano erupted, spewing twelve‑hundred‑degree‑Celsius magma up into the sea. The scorching lava vaporized all the water it touched, sending a massive pillar of steam rocketing toward the surface up the central axis of the megaplume. Driven by the same kinematic properties of fluid dynamics that powered tornadoes, the steams vertical transfer of energy was counterbalanced by an anticyclonic vorticity spiral that circled the shaft, carrying energy in the opposite direction.
Spiraling around this column of rising gas, the ocean currents started intensifying, twisting downward. The fleeing steam created an enormous vacuum that sucked millions of gallons of seawater downward into contact with the magma. As the new water hit bottom, it too turned into steam and needed a way to escape, joining the growing column of exhaust steam and shooting upward, pulling more water in beneath it. As more water rushed in to take its place, the vortex intensified. The hydrothermal plume elongated, and the towering whirlpool grew stronger with every passing second, its upper rim moving steadily toward the surface.
An oceanic black hole had just been born.
Rachel felt like a child in a womb. Hot, wet darkness all engulfing her. Her thoughts were muddled in the inky warmth. Breathe. She fought the reflex. The flash of light she had seen could only have come from the surface, and yet it seemed so far away. An illusion. Get to the surface. Weakly, Rachel began swimming in the direction where she had seen the light. She saw more light now . . . an eerie red glow in the distance. Daylight? She swam harder.
A hand caught her by the ankle.
Rachel half‑screamed underwater, almost exhaling the last of her air.
The hand pulled her backward, twisting her, pointing her back in the opposite direction. Rachel felt a familiar hand grasp hers. Michael Tolland was there, pulling her along with him the other way.
Rachels mind said he was taking her down. Her heart said he knew what he was doing.
Kick with your feet, her mothers voice whispered.
Rachel kicked as hard as she could.