UP ON THE BRIDGE, Peter was just nudging the wheel, taking them past the end of the islet into an open stretch. He whistled, tune stolen by the wind.
A rattling roar off to port. Bullets sprayed across Nereid’s bow, ripping over the sea.
“Christ!” Peter flinched down, alarm crisping his hangover. Reflexes took over: Swing hard to starboard. Gun it. Into evasive.
More automatic fire, crashing from portside. He curvetted side to side, shot a look back, saw the patrol boat churning up to speed after him. Must have been hiding behind the islet. Looked like a four or five-inch cannon up front, maybe a 12 millimeter machine gun aft.
“Bloody hell!” He gave it full throttle, bucked forward. More staccato gunfire, off to starboard.
“Shit!” He wove back to port, and bullets shredded the sea off to port. They were driving him, weaving side to side in the scream of turbos and erupting spray. But it looked like they weren’t trying to hit, just stop him.
“Screw you!” He yanked the wheel, tilting sharp starboard to a clatter of loose something down below, clinging to the wheel slippery with sweat and spray as they tilted farther too steep Christ don’t broach don’t lose it but then they righted and shot out toward another islet and cover. Maybe he could return fire if he’d just get a breathing space—
Whumpf. A deeper concussion, and the sea erupted ahead of him.
“Damn!” He squinted over his shoulder. Boat still gaining on them. Whipping flag—dark blue, or black? Pirates? Flag didn’t ring a bell, if it was pirates or the Prophet boys he should turn right now and nail them with a missile while he had the chance. If he was over the border, and he fired on the Med League, he’d be signing his own death warrant. “Damn it!”
Quick look back. Blue-white flared. Another deep bone-shaking whumpf.
The shell exploded right in front of Nereid, sea roaring up in a foaming gout, lashing over the bridge, tossing the boat.
Blinded, Peter clutched the wheel. The explosion echoed out of memory:
Enemy destroyers overhead and they were trapped below in the submarine, wallowing tin can among the minefield. The flash and then the screaming—
“Mitchell!” Clattering down below.
Nereid bucked and floundered into the chop, flinging Peter off the wheel and against the rail, razor taste of adrenaline slicing through him. He groped back to the wheel, eased the throttles, got her stabilized.
The patrol boat closed in, flashing a warning light.
“Hang on down there, we’re coming around.”
“What!” she yelled. “You’re giving up? Get us out of here, Mitchell you dreck! Do something!”
Do your patriotic duty. Complete the mission at all costs.
Fuck that shit.
He let the engines idle, pulled out a white flag, and waved it overhead. “Nothing to do!” he yelled back to Conreid. Then muttered, “Knew I should’ve had my head examined. . . .” He climbed down to the deck, peered in, snorted at her huddled under the galley table glaring up at him. “Get your ass ready to negotiate, Ms. Conreid. And better hope they aren’t Sons of the Prophet, or you’ll wish you never heard of Saint Ariadne.”
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