ERRATIC GUSTS BURST IN through the harbor entrance, over the high rock cape to the east. Cat’s-paws whirled over the cove, lashing the front screen with rain and froth. Peter took it fast, curving out and to port for a straight shot.
“You got something to pray to, do it now. Get anything loose stowed or lashed down.” His sweat-damp hands clenched on the wheel. He was praying the radar would hang in through the static.
Lightning flared the scene:
Boiling black clouds and wind-whipped spray. Wet cliffs looming close, jagged rock teeth in the waves. The narrow cut out all whitewater churning, froth spewing, waves surging in at them. Beyond in the storm, dark crashing seas.
Thunder. The black curtain dropped back over the brief glimpse. Rain lashed harder.
“Holy shit.” He took a deep breath. “Hang on!” They were in the thick of it now, southeast wind whipping down off the cliffs. Nereid rolled and bucked, water breaking over the bow.
“Chinga—!” A scream from Leeza as they swerved in a big wave hitting starboard, rolling then veering sharp back as Peter gunned the port throttle. A crash behind him, glass breaking.
“For Chrisssake strap in back there!” He squinted through the splatters of rain and spray, couldn’t see shit. Then another lightning bolt ripped, and he wasn’t thrilled with the glimpse. Waves still building, breaking over black rock reef off to port. Over the darkness he tried to place a map: scattered islets out in front of the harbor entrance, straggling off to west, along with shallow rock reef and the tricky winding channel between the mines. Off east, into the teeth of the wind, deeper open seas.
He blinked and decided to risk the forward spotlight, maneuvering tight, turbos howling into a churning clash of waves. He glanced at the radar, the mines glowing green dots like a vidgame maze.
“Slowly.” A hand fell onto his shoulder.
He jumped. “Jesus! Don’t do that.”
“I’m sorry.” Ariadne, rumpled, hair coming loose, dragged herself up beside him and braced herself in the wheelhouse. “Mr. Mitchell, I can guide you out. We must go slowly.”
“No way, we can’t wallow around broadside in this shit! Gotta get clear, hope my scanner doesn’t get scrambled. I got your chart, deep water out that way, east. We’ll circle back once we’re clear and head northwest for that steep little island, shelter behind it.” He gunned it, surging forward with the waves, into the maze, following the little green blips.
Another flare of lightning over the chop past the rainstreaked shield. The radar screen shimmered, flared, went black.
“Shit!” His hand jerked the throttle back and they were foundering, tossed in the darkness. Peter closed his eyes, ice gripping his gut, feeling the mines close in.
Squat, seaweed-coated, warty monsters lurk in the shadows. Just a brush, that’s all. The dull, final thud and that split-second of clarity before everything explodes. Bursting metal in the roar of the submarine’s alarms and fire and water spraying as they plunge deeper into the black swallowing sea—
“Peter!” She gripped his arm, Nereid wallowing in the turbulence. “Take us to port. Now!”
“Sir!” Reflexes obeyed as he goosed the throttle, tugging the wheel. They rolled through the chop, the following seas slamming them side to side. He tapped the radar screen, hit reset. Nothing. “Got to turn back,” he shouted over the roaring of wind, engines.
“No! We must keep on.” She ran a shaky hand over her face, raking the dark tendrils back. “I can guide you through the safe channel.”
“What? In the dark?”
Nereid’s spotlight speared futilely through whipped rain, glimpses of foam-capped waves, dark rocks off to starboard.
“I know these waters, Mr. Mitchell. I know the channel. Ahead, off to port, another reef coming. Immediately after it, swerve starboard, and I will guide you. There, see it?”
They were toast if he tried to turn back blind, maybe capsize broadside anyway. He had to trust her.
“Now. Starboard. Just so.” Her voice was eerily calm in the midst of the howling storm, and Peter was busy just keeping Nereid from broaching, the following seas building and tossing the boat like a toy. The wind howled, pushing them toward the rock fangs, and everything in him was focused tight, hands jumping from throttle to wheel to other throttle in tight correcting bursts as she dictated turns, sweat pouring off him and he had to trust her. Damn if she wasn’t right, though, they were finally looping between two islets toward deeper water, and she must have had some bloody sixth sense, radar in her bones. One more turn and that was it, they were out into deeper water, beyond the mines.
Beside him, she sagged and let out a gusting breath.
“We’re not out of it yet. Hang on, got to run for it.”
Out of the sheltering lee of the island now, the storm winds hit full force. Pushing big waves, twelve to fifteen footers and building. Green water broke over the rail and sluiced the windows as they slid wildly to port.
“Mitchell! You dreck! You’re gonna kill us out here. Take us back!” Leeza was screaming from below.
“So swim back!” he shouted over his shoulder.
He tried to head due north, but couldn’t hold it with that wild following sea off the stern quarter, had to veer more west, hoping to hell he could find that island. The boat broached. Again. And again, waves bursting over them, superstructure screaming in the wind, turbos howling below. Hands blurring from throttle to wheel to throttle, gunning and slowing the engines, if he just once lost that fine edge of control over the monster waves trying to surf them, swamp them. . . .
Peter skated the razor edge, nerves and muscles screaming.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” She was still there, hanging on, flinching as another big one broke over them and shuddered the hull. He couldn’t spare her a glance.
“Pray, Saint Ariadne. Pray.”
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