Even as Tolland and Rachel broke the surface, he knew it was over. The magma dome erupted. As soon as the top of the vortex reached the surface, the giant underwater tornado would begin pulling everything down. Strangely, the world above the surface was not the quiet dawn he had left only moments ago. The noise was deafening. Wind slashed at him as if some kind of storm had hit while he was underwater.
Tolland felt delirious from lack of oxygen. He tried to support Rachel in the water, but she was being pulled from his arms. The current! Tolland tried to hold on, but the invisible force pulled harder, threatening to tear her from him. Suddenly, his grip slipped, and Rachels body slid through his arms‑but upward.
Bewildered, Tolland watched Rachels body rise out of the water.
Overhead, the Coast Guard Osprey tilt‑rotor airplane hovered and winched Rachel in. Twenty minutes ago, the Coast Guard had gotten a report of an explosion out at sea. Having lost track of the Dolphin helicopter that was supposed to be in the area, they feared an accident. They typed the choppers last known coordinates into their navigation system and hoped for the best.
About a half mile from the illuminated Goya, they saw a field of burning wreckage drifting on the current. It looked like a speedboat. Nearby, a man was in the water, waving his arms wildly. They winched him in. He was stark naked‑all except for one leg, which was covered with duct tape.
Exhausted, Tolland looked up at the underbelly of the thundering tilt‑rotor airplane. Deafening gusts pounded down off its horizontal propellers. As Rachel rose on a cable, numerous sets of hands pulled her into the fuselage. As Tolland watched her dragged to safety, his eyes spotted a familiar man crouched half‑naked in the doorway.
Corky? Tollands heart soared. Youre alive!
Immediately, the harness fell from the sky again. It landed ten feet away. Tolland wanted to swim for it, but he could already feel the sucking sensation of the plume. The relentless grip of the sea wrapped around him, refusing to let go.
The current pulled him under. He fought toward the surface, but the exhaustion was overwhelming. Youre a survivor, someone was saying. He kicked his legs, clawing toward the surface. When he broke through into the pounding wind, the harness was still out of reach. The current strained to drag him under. Looking up into the torrent of swirling wind and noise, Tolland saw Rachel. She was staring down, her eyes willing him up toward her.
It took Tolland four powerful strokes to reach the harness. With his last ounce of strength, he slid his arm and head up into the loop and collapsed.
All at once the ocean was falling away beneath him.
Tolland looked down just as the gaping vortex opened. The megaplume had finally reached the surface.
William Pickering stood on the bridge of the Goya and watched in dumbstruck awe as the spectacle unfolded all around him. Off the starboard of the Goyas stern, a huge basinlike depression was forming on the surface of the sea. The whirlpool was hundreds of yards across and expanding fast. The ocean spiraled into it, racing with an eerie smoothness over the lip. All around him now, a guttural moan reverberated out of the depths. Pickerings mind was blank as he watched the hole expanding toward him like the gaping mouth of some epic god hungry for sacrifice.
Im dreaming, Pickering thought.
Suddenly, with an explosive hiss that shattered the windows of the Goyas bridge, a towering plume of steam erupted skyward out of the vortex. A colossal geyser climbed overhead, thundering, its apex disappearing into the darkened sky.
Instantly, the funnel walls steepened, the perimeter expanding faster now, chewing across the ocean toward him. The stern of the Goya swung hard toward the expanding cavity. Pickering lost his balance and fell to his knees. Like a child before God, he gazed downward into the growing abyss.
His final thoughts were for his daughter, Diana. He prayed she had not known fear like this when she died.
The concussion wave from the escaping steam hurled the Osprey sideways. Tolland and Rachel held each other as the pilots recovered, banking low over the doomed Goya. Looking out, they could see William Pickering‑the Quaker‑kneeling in his black coat and tie at the upper railing of the doomed ship.
As the stern fishtailed out over the brink of the massive twister, the anchor cable finally snapped. With its bow proudly in the air, the Goya slipped backward over the watery ledge, sucked down the steep spiraling wall of water. Her lights were still glowing as she disappeared beneath the sea.