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Aboard the Tonga
Tanaka Oceanographic Institute
The bull was lost.
For the entirety of its adult existence it had been the master of its domain—a domain defined by sound. A simple clickety-click and the silver-gray behemoth immediately recognized its territory, be it the subglacial lake in Antarctica where its kind had survived for eons, the shallows where its harem of cows had birthed their calves, or the now-accessible depths of the Southern Ocean where the dominant male had, up until recently, foraged for food.
None were present. Nor was there a memory of how the bull had come to be in this unrecognizable sea. And so it took refuge in the shallows in a semiconscious stupor, its blowhole remaining free of the water.
* * *
Jacqueline Buchwald adjusted the hood of her parka over her shoulder-length, strawberry-blond hair, the air temperature inside the bowels of the Malacca-class oil tanker kept at a brisk 42 degrees Fahrenheit. The Tonga and her sister ship, the Mogamigawa, no longer transported crude, their enormous holds having been scrubbed and refitted with seawater pens by their new owner—a Dubai crown prince—to stock Dubai-Land, his ambitious prehistoric aquarium theme park in the United Arab Emirates. The size of the tank was a necessity—the species targeted for capture were among the largest and most dangerous life-forms ever to have existed on the planet.
The twenty-six-year-old marine biologist stood dead center of the catwalk, a narrow expanse of grated steel connecting the two walkways anchored along the port and starboard bulkheads. The hold was purposely kept dark in order to accommodate the eyes of the nocturnal species they had been hunting over the past year, the only light coming from strings of Christmas decorations wrapped around the walkway’s guardrails.
Jackie used the night-vision scope of her harpoon gun to search the dark waters forty feet below her perch for the lone animal that now occupied the Tonga’s hold. Jonas Taylor had dubbed the creature “Brutus,” and the name was apropos; at eighty feet and a hundred eighty-seven thousand pounds, the Livyatan melvillei was certainly a brute. Unlike the other prehistoric species, the Miocene whale had been discovered in an ancient habitat somewhere in Antarctica, its location safeguarded by Jonas’s colleague, Zachary Wallace, the marine biologist who, years earlier, had resolved the mystery of the monster that inhabited Loch Ness.
Capturing the Miocene whale had been an accident. Jonas’s son, David, had set the Tonga’s nets at the exit point of an Antarctic bay to capture the adult Liopleurodon they had been chasing for nearly a year when Brutus showed up, springing the trap.
Three weeks had passed since the whale’s capture. The feisty bull was not keen on being held inside the tight confines of the tanker, forcing Jackie to introduce phenobarbital into its pen to calm the beast. It was a tricky proposition; too little tranquilizer and the prehistoric mammal might go berserk, too much and it could drown.
Her employer, Fiesal bin Rashidi, had made it clear that he was in favor of the latter.
“Miss Buchwald, I did not spend tens of millions of dollars and eight long months at sea to capture a whale.”
“This isn’t just a whale, sir. Livyatan melvillei was a prehistoric sperm whale, only it possessed the lower jaw of an orca. Megalodon and melvillei were the two dominant predators during the Miocene era … maybe of all time. This creature’s teeth are actually bigger than a Meg’s teeth, and its bite is just as powerful. Your cousin just purchased the Tanaka Institute from the Taylors; the lagoon would be perfect for Brutus.”
“And what happens when it dies? All our specimens are female, capable of internal fertilization. You know firsthand that we’ve been storing eggs to ensure our exhibits’ longevity. This menace is a male. Without a female, the creature is a dead-end investment.
“The public also feels differently about penning a whale—even a prehistoric menace like this creature. Animal rights groups are staging protests outside the governor’s mansion in Sacramento. The crown prince has agreed to release the animal during this afternoon’s festivities aboard the Tonga. A special tracking device has been prepared. At precisely two o’clock, an hour before the prince makes his speech, I want you to tag the whale and prepare it to be released. Is that clear?”
“Two o’clock … yes, sir.”
* * *
Jackie peered through the harpoon gun’s night scope, which lifted the veil of darkness, rendering everything olive green. Bin Rashidi had given her an hour to tag the melvillei with the radio transmitter and then bring it out of its drug-induced state by adding fresh seawater to the tank so that it would be able to escape under its own power once they opened the tanker’s keel doors.
An hour’s not nearly enough time. Brutus has been drugged for three weeks; it could take several hours before he comes around. The last thing the crown prince wants is for the whale to go belly-up in front of the international news media.
She glanced at her cell phone to check the time before placing it in the ziplock bag and tucking it in the back pocket of her jeans.
Twelve-fifteen. Tag it and then wait another fifteen minutes before you add fresh water.
She located the semiconscious bull in the shallows where the keel angled to conform to the Tonga’s bow. Selecting a location between the whale’s blowhole and its dorsal hump, she squeezed the trigger and fired.
* * *
The harpoon buried the transmitter four feet inside the Miocene whale’s spermaceti organ, eliciting a stabbing pain accompanied by a burst of adrenaline that lifted the phenobarbital-induced fog.
Enraged, Brutus slapped its tail along the surface as it lurched ahead—beaching itself in twenty feet of water.
The sensation of being trapped sent the beast into full panic mode. Whipping itself into a barrel roll, it attempted to dive, only to end up stuck on its side, its fluke unable to strike the hull in order to gain leverage, its ninety-three tons crushing its lungs and internal organs.
* * *
Jackie watched the Miocene whale through the night scope as it flailed helplessly on its left flank, seconds from flipping over onto its back. She reached for the walkie-talkie held snugly inside a holster clipped to her belt. “Bridge, this is Buchwald—pick up, goddammit!”
“This is Ensign Slatford.”
“Andrew, Brutus beached himself. Open the stern hatch; we need to raise the water level so he can swim free.”
“Jackie, I can’t add ballast without clearing it with the captain.”
“Then ask him; just do it fast!”
Jackie removed the night scope from the harpoon gun and faced the stern. Thirty seconds passed before a stream of bubbles and foam rose to the surface, indicating the keel doors were open.
She returned her gaze through the night scope to Brutus. The water level was rising about a foot a minute, gradually lifting the beached behemoth, which was wriggling furiously while desperately slapping its fluke against the steel hull to prevent itself from going belly-up.
The rising tide finally floated the behemoth. It rolled onto its belly and wriggled away from the bow’s shallow incline until it slipped beneath the dark waters and disappeared.
“Buchwald to bridge—we’re good. Andrew, close the keel doors.”
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt … zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt.
The double blast of echolocation sent Jackie’s skull reverberating as if it had been struck by a giant tuning fork. Looking down, she saw a ten-foot wake pass along the surface as Brutus accelerated toward the stern end of the hold two football fields away.
* * *
The water was rancid, permeated with the toxic scent and taste of phenobarbital, the acidic animal tranquilizer burning the delicate tissues of the whale’s blowhole. The fresh ocean water entering the tanker’s hold was a river of life.
The whale raced for it, homing in on its cooler temperatures.
The Miocene whale’s squared-off skull impacted and popped open a seam of rivets connecting two steel plates along the stern’s inner hull. Jackie registered the collision deep inside her bones. A moment later, she experienced a wave of nausea as the rusted grating beneath her feet began to shake and the darkness on her right squealed its final warning.
Dropping the harpoon gun, she grabbed for the safety rail and held on as the bolts connecting the bridge to the port bulkhead snapped and suddenly one side of the catwalk dropped, the grating sliding out from beneath her as it collapsed at a forty-five-degree angle.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God—”
The loose end of the bridge splashed down into the water, the starboard bulkhead holding tight.
Jackie pulled herself up, managing to straddle the rail. Realizing she had dropped the walkie-talkie, she looked down in time to see an undulating gray mass pass twenty feet beneath her unsteady perch—
—Brutus heading back to the bow to make another assault on the stern.
* * *
The Bell 525 helicopter soared south above the Pacific coast on its short excursion from downtown San Francisco. Among its thirteen passengers was the CEO of the Emirates National Oil Company; one of the presidents of the National Bank of Fujairah; Ryan Skinner, the newly elected governor of California; a half-dozen chairmen representing three of the largest construction companies in Dubai; and a reporter with the Gulf News.
There were also two Arab security men, their Glocks bulging beneath the jackets of their dark suits.
The man seated alone in the last row unplugged his headphones, cutting off the voice of his first cousin. Crown Prince Walid Abu Naba’a had been pitching his entourage of financial backers about “his” aquarium and “his” juvenile Liopleurodon from the moment they had taken off from the rooftop of their hotel, and Fiesal bin Rashidi could not handle another word.
Your Liopleurodon? Was it you who spent the last eight months aboard the Tonga, chasing that creature’s mother across the Pacific Ocean? Was it you who had to deal with a mutinous crew after you threatened to cancel their bonus checks?
The only reason we captured that monster’s offspring is because I held the mission together … me, cousin. Not you. Instead, you’ve reduced me to an afterthought. Do you think that I cannot hear the whispers of deceit coming from back home … your discussions to buy out my twenty percent? To replace me as director of Dubai-Land?
Without me, there would be no aquarium … there would be no Dubai-Land!
Fiesal bin Rashidi massaged the tension knotting beneath his unibrow. The Dubai-Land Resort and Aquarium was on the verge of becoming the entertainment mecca of the world. Yet by the time the park opened, he would be as forgotten as Billy Wilkerson, the man who had lost the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas to Bugsy Siegel.
* * *
Like his father before him, Fiesal bin Rashidi was an engineer, earning his degrees from Cambridge, his field of interest targeting naval applications. He had been working on the Chunnel when a friend introduced him to a marine biologist in need of someone with his expertise.
Dr. Michael Maren had been as paranoid as he was brilliant—an odd chap who had avoided eye contact when he spoke and trusted no one. His mother had died recently, leaving him an abundance of wealth with which to pursue his scientific endeavors. Maren had been interested in exploring the deepest ocean trenches in the world and was looking to hire a naval engineer who could design a deep-water habitat possessing a submersible docking station capable of withstanding water pressures in excess of nineteen thousand pounds per square inch.
The challenge had been enormous, the requirement a bit baffling, since the Mariana Trench, the deepest known location on the planet, possessed sixteen thousand pounds of pressure. Still, the job paid well and Fiesal could work on it while he completed his work on the Chunnel.
Over the next three years the naval engineer had tested half a dozen different designs before coming up with one that had proved stable enough to flood and drain a docking station nine miles beneath the surface. Two titanium habitats had been built while Maren’s research vessel was fitted with an A-frame, winch, and steel cable strong enough to lower and raise the enormous weight. After five years of construction and tests, the marine biologist had been ready to set sail to “an unexplored realm.” Fiesal had been offered a position on the maiden voyage, but the thought of spending upward of a year at sea with the volatile scientist and his lover/assistant, Allison Petrucci, held no appeal. With the Chunnel complete, Fiesal had accepted an offer from his father’s firm, returning to Dubai to work on the emirate’s new airport.
Eighteen months later, he had been contacted by Allison Petrucci, who informed him Dr. Maren was dead. After coercing the engineer into signing a nondisclosure agreement, the woman had presented him with evidence of an unexplored sea that dated back hundreds of millions of years, possessing ancient marine life that could be captured and placed on exhibit. For a seven-figure sum she would provide Fiesal with the coordinates of an access point into the realm her fiancé had referred to as the Panthalassa Sea.
Bin Rashidi had needed more convincing. He got it when the woman had produced a map of the Philippine Sea Plate, indicating that the ancient sea actually resided beneath the Mariana Trench. Years earlier, Jonas Taylor had theorized that these same depths harbored a warm-layer habitat that supported a subspecies of Megalodon, a sixty-foot prehistoric cousin of the great white shark. He had proven it to the world when one of the monstrous sharks—a pregnant female—had risen to the surface. Taylor had been forced to kill the beast, but its surviving pup, Angel, had grown into a seventy-four-foot monster, and for years was the star attraction of the Tanaka Oceanographic Institute.
If Fiesal could bring such an attraction to Dubai …
The Middle East was a battleground. America’s military interventions in Iraq and a failed Arab Spring had added only more fuel to that fire. Democracy had been subverted in Egypt, autocratic rule festered in Syria and Iran, and ISIS militants were threatening both Arab states and the West.
Three months after his meeting with Allison Petrucci, Fiesal bin Rashidi had presented his first cousin, Crown Prince Walid Abu Naba’a, with a business plan for Dubai-Land, a marine theme park featuring a dozen five-star hotels centered around massive aquariums stocked with real prehistoric sea monsters. The popularity of the Tanaka Institute had proven the public’s love of aquatic beasts; Dubai-Land would take the concept multiple steps further, making their country the number one tourist destination in the world. Just as important, the aquarium would present Westerners with a more positive opinion of Muslims, while inoculating the UAE against the threat of radical Islam.
Bin Rashidi had designed the supersized aquariums himself. He had also identified two Malacca-class crude oil tankers, the Tonga and the Mogamigawa, that could be purchased from the Japanese. All that was needed was the crown prince’s capital and someone to lead the underwater safari to stock their exhibits.
Jonas Taylor was the unanimous choice—only the former Navy submersible pilot and marine biologist had flatly refused. He and Dr. Maren had crossed paths before, the last time culminating in Michael’s death. The Tanaka Institute did agree to sell two of Angel’s four surviving Megalodon offspring to the crown prince, along with four of its deep-sea Manta submersibles.
But there was another Taylor who had captured Fiesal’s eye—Jonas’s son, David. The cocky twenty-one-year-old was not only a highly skilled Manta pilot, but he seemed fearless around the Megalodons. A lucrative summer job offer in Dubai to stabilize the two Meg runts in their new aquariums was the lure to bring David to the UAE; but it was a summer romance with one of their pilot candidates—Kaylie Szeifert—that would send him into the depths of the Panthalassa Sea searching for ancient prehistoric monsters.
Locating the Panthalassa life-forms had been easy; drawing them into the surface ships’ nets had proved to be a bit more challenging. After several months, the submersible crews had managed to capture four different species, two of which perished inside their tanker pens.
And then Fiesal bin Rashidi had laid eyes on the Liopleurodon.
The creature was an aberration of evolution—a specimen that Fiesal knew would easily become the identity of the aquarium. While the rest of the crew aboard the Tonga remained mesmerized by the Lio, Fiesal had fired a tracking device into the animal’s back as it surfaced, ensuring they would not lose their prized quarry.
For the next eight months, the aquarium director and his crew aboard the Tonga had chased after the hundred-twenty-two-foot creature as it trekked across the Western Pacific and south to Antarctica. The Lio had refused to surface, and Fiesal’s team of submersible pilots had been too afraid to venture close enough to engage the goliath and lure it into the tanker’s nets. Compounding the problem was the failure of bin Rashidi’s second unit aboard the Mogamigawa to capture a pod of Shonisaurus that had escaped the Panthalassa Sea. With only three of the twelve exhibits occupied, the crown prince’s initial excitement about the aquarium had waned, turning Fiesal’s optimism into doubt, his joy festering into resentment, frustration, and bitterness.
A sense of gloom seemed to hang over the Tonga. Desperate, lacking a game plan, and clearly out of his element, Fiesal bin Rashidi had lost the respect of his crew. The driving force behind the aquarium had spent his days alone in his stateroom, a prisoner to his own ambition. Women no longer interested him, gold no longer shimmered. Stuck on a seemingly endless voyage of damnation, Fiesal bin Rashidi, once the favored cousin of the crown prince, had become his albatross.
And then David Taylor had arrived on board the Mogamigawa and lady luck had returned. Three prehistoric sea creatures had been captured within thirty-six hours, including a Mosasaurus.
It was as if the sun had shone for the first time in almost a year.
The crown prince arranged for a helicopter to transport David, his friend Monty, and the ship’s female marine biologist, Jacqueline Buchwald, to the Tonga. A buzz of excitement had spread through the crew—David Taylor would take charge of the mission and capture the Lio. The Tonga would return home with its prize, families reunited, bonus checks cashed.
But was the son of Jonas Taylor to be trusted? The Liopleurodon had savagely taken the life of David’s girlfriend, and the young man was clearly haunted by her death.
Was he out to capture the Lio … or kill it?
In the end, the answer had turned out to be both.
* * *
The disgruntled naval engineer plugged his headphones back in as the helicopter began its vertical descent over the Tonga’s helipad, their arrival having done little to slow down the crown prince’s pitch.
“… That’s the beauty of internal fertilization. All the pups are female, each a genetic clone of their mother. That means our Liopleurodon pup will grow into a thirty-seven-meter monster, just as Angel’s daughter, Zahra, will be her mother’s mirror image.”
A smattering of applause was followed by the chopper’s landing gear touching down. One by one the men climbed out, crossing the tanker’s enormous deck to where a set of bleachers had been set up before a three-story-high, five-hundred-thousand-gallon aquarium.
Bin Rashidi was the last person to deboard. As he stepped down from the helicopter he was met by the crown prince. His cousin’s personal attorney, Kirsty Joyce, was standing two paces behind him holding a leather briefcase.
“Fiesal, things have changed. Our costs have skyrocketed, and I need to recapitalize the venture or we’ll be bankrupt before we open.” He turned to the British woman, who handed him two copies of a legal document. “I’m releasing another ten million shares of the company—”
“Diluting my twenty percent to…?” Bin Rashidi scanned the five-page addendum, his hand shaking. “A buyout? I was the one who came to you with this idea … the location of the Panthalassa Sea … the design of the tanks. Cousin, how can you do this to me?”
“I am offering you ten million dollars for your stock. Most people would be grateful.”
“Once it’s open, the park will make that every hour.”
“You mean, if it opens. My accountants estimate our start-up costs will exceed twenty-four billion before we book our first reservation. Will you be putting up that money, Fiesal?”
“We’re already booked three years in advance.”
“And those deposits must all be returned if I cannot recapitalize the venture. Sign the contract and Ms. Joyce will wire the funds into your account. Don’t sign, and my next offer will be half that amount.”
Fiesal bin Rashidi felt the blood rush to his cheeks. Taking the pen from the blond attorney, he signed the two signature pages, the crown prince’s authorizations already stamped and notarized.
Kirsty Joyce filed one of the copies in her brief. Removing her iPhone, she quickly texted instructions to the crown prince’s bank. “The funds have been wired.”
“Plans within plans, eh, cousin?”
“It’s been nine days since the Tonga arrived, nine days since the blood sport occurred in the Tanaka Lagoon. And yet the Miocene whale has still not been released, the contract to sell the Taylors’ facility to Agricola Industries is yet to be signed.”
“As Ms. Joyce will tell you, there are still several deal points being negotiated.”
The attorney nodded. “There is a legal question as to which party owns the teeth from the two deceased Megalodons, as well as the adult Lio. As you can imagine, each tooth can bring in quite a lot of money. Mr. Agricola is claiming owner’s rights to the albino Megalodon, Lizzy, since he captured the shark after it had escaped—”
Fiesal held up his palm. “There is an old Arab saying, ‘Avoid the company of liars, but if you can’t, then be sure you never believe them.’ I may not be royalty, Ms. Joyce, but do not take me for a fool.” He turned back to his cousin. “I see Governor Skinner is among your entourage.”
“Is it a crime to extend the courtesy of an invitation to a political ally?”
“You mean a future bedfellow, don’t you, cousin? There will be no deal with the Canadian. You mean to keep the Tanaka Institute for yourself, along with the Miocene whale, which will occupy the lagoon.”
“And will I also be spending half a billion dollars to place a dome over this thirty-year-old facility?”
“The sale of the two Megalodon siblings’ teeth alone would cover that expense.”
“And when the bull dies?”
“You have a living specimen and a modern relative in the sperm whale. Cloning the species would be a relatively easy task for our genetics team, on par with what the Russians are doing to bring back the woolly mammoth. The bigger concern is one of real estate. How much land will the governor make available for you in Carmel and Monterey to build your hotels and theme park?”
“An interesting theory, Fiesal—one I’d advise you to keep to yourself. You wouldn’t want to violate the nondisclosure section of the buyout agreement you just signed.”
“Is that it then?”
“I see no reason for you to attend tonight’s festivities. Gather your belongings and the pilot will take you back to San Francisco.”
The crown prince turned to his attractive personal attorney. “Come, Ms. Joyce … let us introduce the Lio to our new partners.”
* * *
At eleven hundred feet from bow to stern and a hundred ninety-six feet wide, the Tonga was as large as an aircraft carrier, and when her hold was filled to capacity, she displaced more weight. A floating steel island, the Malacca-class crude tanker was anchored less than a mile offshore, her starboard flank several hundred yards from the entrance of the canal that led into the Tanaka Institute’s man-made lagoon.
The ship’s superstructure towered twelve stories above the stern, the Lio’s holding tank erected in its shadow. Sixty feet in diameter and thirty feet high, the circular Lexan aquarium had been flown in from the Dubai-Land resort and assembled by Jacqueline Buchwald and her staff to better care for the Lio pup during the anticipated three-week voyage to Dubai.
* * *
Like excited children on Christmas Day, the crown prince’s entourage hurried across the deck to join the other invited guests and members of the media, all of whom were busy snapping photos and taking video of the star attraction.
While the business pitch from their billionaire host had certainly been convincing, it paled in comparison with actually seeing the Liopleurodon circling within its tank. Only a month old, the pliosaur was already a dangerous predator, its jaws sporting two-to-five-inch dagger-like teeth, the largest of which jutted outside of its mouth. Flapping along its short, powerful neck were six gill slits. While the creature’s ancestors that had dominated the Late Jurassic seas were air-breathing marine reptiles, the subspecies that had escaped extinction in the Panthalassa Sea had adapted to their new deep-water environment by growing gills, rendering them “reptilian fish.”
What really surprised the crown prince’s guests was how large the Lio had grown in such a short amount of time. When the public had last seen the pliosaur, it had measured eight feet from the tip of its crocodile-like snout to the point of its stubby tail and weighed just under two hundred and fifty pounds. Its transformation during this past week in captivity had been startling. While its length had increased by 50 percent, its girth had more than doubled. The marine biologists on board the Tonga theorized the pliosaur’s incredible growth spurt could be credited to a diet much higher in fat content than the prey the juvenile might normally find in the Panthalassa Sea, combined with the aquarium’s increased oxygen content. The latter also helped to explain the creature’s hyperkinetic movements.
Lead-gray on top with a speckled belly, the juvenile killer glided around the tank on a single burst from its paddle-like forelimbs with the dexterity of a seal, using its hindquarters as a rudder from which to steer. With both sets of limbs pumping in open water, it could give a speedboat a run for its money.
The animal remained close to the inside of the glass, the dark pupil of its yellow right eye appearing cold and calculating as it circled counterclockwise, watching the watchers.
A few of the VIPs had brought their children to the event. When a six-year-old boy went running toward the tank, the Lio banked on a dime to intercept, its jaws wide and outstretched and ready to swallow the shrieking child down its hideous pink gullet, had the three-inch-thick, bulletproof Lexan glass not been in the way.
This reaction naturally spurred a dozen copycats, and within minutes, the videos had gone viral.
* * *
Fiesal bin Rashidi entered his stateroom, not surprised to find his belongings already packed, his two suitcases and duffel bag tagged, the airline ticket left ontop of his laptop. He checked the itinerary. San Francisco to Dubai, leaving at eleven-thirty tonight, with a layover in New York. Not only does he have me on the red-eye, he has me flying coach …
“No good deed goes unpunished, eh, cousin.”
The jolt felt as if the Tonga had run aground, only Fiesal knew that was impossible, as the tanker was poised over the depths of the Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon. A quick glance at his watch confirmed it was only 12:52 p.m.
I told Buchwald 2 p.m.… I was very clear—
His walkie-talkie buzzed and he grabbed it off its charger.
“Bridge to Mr. bin Rashidi.”
“I’m here. Go ahead, Mr. Slatford.”
“Sir, did you feel that jolt? The captain’s concerned the whale may be attempting to break out of the hold. I tried to raise Ms. Buchwald, but she hasn’t responded. The skipper wants me to send an armed detail below—”
“That’s not necessary. I’ll check on Brutus; you can send one of the crew to my quarters to load my belongings on board the chopper.”
Walkie-talkie in hand, Fiesal left his suite and headed down a corridor to the stairwell. He descended three flights, exiting to a small corridor which led to a watertight door set inside the bulkhead.
Keep Door Closed at All Times
Fiesal selected one of the fur-lined parkas hanging from hooks along the wall and slipped the coat on. He grabbed a flashlight from a footlocker and tested it to make sure the batteries were good. Then he pressed down on the steel handle of the watertight door, wrenched it open, and entered the hold, pulling it closed behind him.
Stepping out onto the walkway, he was greeted by a howl of chilled air. The narrow steel path ran from the stern to the bow, hugging the starboard bulkhead.
Fiesal aimed the beam of his flashlight at the water, surprised to see an enormous wake rolling away from him toward the bow. Why is there a wake in the hold? We’re not moving; there should be no—
The voice was female and faint, coming from somewhere up ahead. He proceeded down the walkway, guided by the strand of Christmas lights until he reached the catwalk’s bridge … or what remained of it.
Fiesal aimed the beam of his flashlight below, where Jacqueline Buchwald was holding on to the guardrail.
“Get a rope!”
Before he could reply, an immense silver-gray mass raced beneath the collapsed catwalk—
—followed by a massive swell that swallowed the bridge, and the female biologist with it, the wave cresting three feet over the starboard catwalk, soaking Fiesal’s lower torso as it rolled in the direction of the stern.
The enraged whale struck the keel’s steel plates with the force of a train hitting a brick building—
—while the swell climbed the far end of the tank to blast the underside of the deck five stories overhead, the displacement of ballast actually raising the Tonga’s prow three feet out of the sea.
Fiesal ran toward the impact as the swell receded beneath his perch in the opposite direction, the retreating depths revealing the creature’s midsection as Brutus squeezed through the gap it had created in the hull, its wriggling torso pushing the opening wider—
—until the leviathan’s fluke disappeared into open ocean.
The Pacific rushed into the tanker, the water level rising quickly. Yanking open the watertight door, bin Rashidi stepped out into the corridor and resealed it behind him. He tossed the coat on the floor and hurried up six flights of stairs, his mind racing.
Get to the chopper; don’t create a scene. As long as the watertight doors remain sealed, the ship will stay afloat.
He emerged on the main deck, realizing his pants and shoes were dripping wet. He slowed his pace to a natural walk, watching the producer of Dubai-Land’s reality show stalking him in his peripheral vision.
“Mr. bin Rashidi!”
He struggled to recall the man’s name. Barry … Tucker? Barry Walker? He spotted the Star of David hanging around his neck. “Yes, Mr. Zuckerman?”
“What just happened? It felt like we ran aground.”
“Then what was it?”
“It was Brutus. Our marine biologist had to add seawater to his pen to bring him out of his stupor. He’s getting a bit agitated; she may have to release him earlier than we planned.”
“Why wasn’t I told? There’s a ton of shots we still need to get on video.” He retrieved a walkie-talkie from his Windbreaker pocket. “Ponyboy, it’s Barry. Get your second unit down to the hold—the whale is conscious. Is that British MMA actor on board yet?”
“Lee Shone? He’s posing by the Lio tank.”
“Bring him below and get his shots.” He looked at bin Rashidi. “How much time do we have?”
“Not much. “Turning on his heel, bin Rashidi headed for his cousin’s helicopter, his soaked shoes and socks leaving a trail of wet marks.
* * *
The swell had hit the catwalk like a thirty-foot-high tsunami, the current stripping the sneakers and socks from Jackie’s feet as she held on to the guardrail for dear life—until the entire span of twisted metal was swept away, dragging her with it.
She released the anchor of steel and fought her way to the surface, only the wave refused to let her go, carrying her a hundred feet before lifting her straight up the stern bulkhead to the ceiling. Flailing blindly, she managed to grab hold of a ceiling strut and hold on as the swell suddenly fell back into the tank, leaving her dangling from a new perch—seventy feet above the retreating waters.
Grunting and shaking from the cold, she raised her right leg up to the ceiling’s steel framework, her bare foot snaking its way atop a support beam until she was able to pull herself into a seated position.
Jackie looked down. As she watched, the water level rose above the starboard walkway’s rail, causing the Christmas lights to spark and short.
Brutus must have punched through the hull.…
“Oh, Jesus, I’m going to drown.”
She searched her pockets for her iPhone, blessing the instinct that had led her to seal it in a plastic ziplock bag. With trembling hands, she scrolled for a number.…
* * *
David Taylor shifted uncomfortably on his assigned bar stool, fighting the urge to look at the camera looming directly in front of him. He despised interviews, but the Hollywood Xtra segment producer, James Gelet, had been an ally during his sea monster safari, and so he had reluctantly agreed.
At least the location of the shoot was convenient—the two bar stools set up at the north end of the Tanaka Oceanographic Institute’s arena along the span of concrete separating the man-made lagoon from the Meg Pen. Still, he saw no purpose to the exercise. Both habitats remained vacant, the facility technically closed until he and its new owner, Paul Agricola, could capture one of Bela’s or Lizzy’s newborns—assuming any of the pups had survived the orca populations inhabiting the Salish Sea without the protection of their ferocious mothers.
Then there was the reporter.
Melissa Bell was a blue-eyed, raven-haired beauty hired to read from a teleprompter—or so he had assumed. It quickly became evident that she had come prepared and that David would need his “A” game to keep pace. It didn’t help that his best friend, Jason “Monty” Montgomery—a former Army medic with an explosion-induced bipolar brain—was lurking off-camera like a hungry shark on lithium.
“Melissa Bell here. Today I’m visiting the world-famous Tanaka Oceanographic Institute with David Taylor, the son of Jonas Taylor, who, I think it’s safe to say, is the foremost authority on Carcharodon megalodon. Did I say that right?”
“Yeah, that was perfect.”
“Eight nights ago, you played ringmaster to an unexpected showdown between two adult Megs—Bela and Lizzy—and an absolute freak of nature, a one-hundred-twenty-foot female Liopleurodon. Is it safe to say that what happened in the Tanaka Lagoon was the scariest moment of your life?”
“Not really. I mean, don’t get me wrong … that was scary, but when everything is happening so fast like it did, there’s no time to be scared. You just react. To be honest, if I had to pick the absolute scariest moment of my life, I’d say it was when I was fourteen years old and Angel returned to California waters after being gone for seventeen years.”
“Angel, of course, was the surviving offspring of the pregnant female that your grandfather Masao Tanaka had lured to the surface from the depths of the Mariana Trench.”
“He didn’t lure the Meg to the surface, it was an accident.” David glanced over her shoulder at Monty, who was pretending to hang himself with his shirt collar.
“Tell us about that scary moment.”
He pointed in the direction of the canal, which was blocked by the Canadian-registered hopper-dredge, Marieke, which belonged to his soon-to-be partner, Paul Agricola. “I was scuba diving just outside the entrance to the lagoon.… There’s an underwater junction box that controls the canal doors and I was trying to fix it.”
“Were you diving alone?”
“Yeah. Kinda stupid, I know. I was in about eighty feet of water when I felt this … presence. There’s a section of the Monterey Submarine Canyon that is only about fifty yards from the canal doors. When I looked in that direction, I thought I saw Angel’s tail moving off, heading into the depths.”
“You’re right, that’s pretty scary.”
“No … that wasn’t the scary part. The scary part happened about a week later. To prove to my uncle Mac that Angel had returned, I powered up the lagoon’s underwater loudspeakers and played the deep sounds the Meg associated with feeding time. I was alone in the observation post, which is this underwater viewing chamber set along the southern seawall, when Angel entered the lagoon. Keep in mind that up until then, I had never seen her except in videos. Well, she was an absolute monster … easily seventy-five feet long and fifty tons. She was as white as a ghost, her head was as big as a two-story house, and her jaws were opening and closing like she was talking. I could see water entering her mouth and slipping out her gill slits and I realized she was just breathing.
“We were as close as you and I are now, separated by seven inches of glass, and she was looking at me, and her snout was casually pressing up against the viewing chamber glass, and I could see that her sheer mass was causing the Lexan to bend inside the frame.”
“What did you do?”
“There was an emergency button set along the chamber wall that dropped a steel plate in place to protect the glass. I hit it about two seconds before she charged—otherwise she would have flooded the viewing area and eaten me. Angel was a scary fish.”
“But no match for the Liopleurodon.”
“Not true. Me and another submersible pilot were trapped in a deep-water habitat in the Panthalassa Sea when they fought. From the viewing portal I saw that Angel had her jaws around that bitch’s neck and was crushing its throat. It would have ended there, only the Tonga netted Angel and hauled her out of the water, and that’s when the Lio…”
His words trailed off as the memory interceded.
He was treading water, Kaylie on one side of his father’s submersible, David on the other, the bloodstained sea washing over the acrylic pod … the creature’s fang-laced crocodilian jaws rising along either side of the girl, plucking her from below—
He jumped as his iPhone vibrated along his right butt cheek.
Reaching into his back pocket, he powered off the device.
“Let’s talk about Bela and Lizzy. You seemed to have really cared about those two monsters.”
“I raised them from birth. And the sisters weren’t monsters.”
“Come on, David—they killed at least three people.”
“One was a fisherman who shot Lizzy from point-blank range in her eye. Another was some old lady who tried swimming with them in open water. Pretty stupid, if you ask me.”
“People in the Salish Sea say they were afraid because the sisters hunted in tandem.”
“Yeah, well, they learned to do that out of fear. From the moment they were birthed they were afraid of their mother. My father was actually in the lagoon, circling Angel in one of the old Abyss Gliders in an attempt to distract her. As each pup shot out of her birth canal, my uncle Mac would net them and haul them out of the lagoon and into the Meg Pen before she could kill them.”
“Which is exactly why the public considers these sharks to be such a menace. I mean, come on—what species eats its own young?”
“Megs don’t eat their young, Melissa. With Angel, it was a decision based on the limited capacity of her habitat. The same strategy applied to the sisters. The lagoon and Meg Pen are actually connected by an underwater tunnel. We kept it closed, of course, but the pups could still detect the presence of their mother. She was the Alpha-Meg and Bela and Lizzy were afraid of her, so they swam in tandem. Eventually they became co-Alphas in their own tank, which is why they were always bullying the three runts.”
“Bullying? Angelica was eaten.”
“Technically, she was eviscerated. Again, it was a territorial thing. As you can see, the Meg Pen is too small to support five adult females, so the sisters went after the three runts while they still had the size advantage. The triplets may have been born smaller, but they were genetic clones of Angel. The surviving runt in Dubai-Land will eventually be as big and as nasty as her mama. Make no mistake about it: The three runts would have eventually killed the sisters. Bela and Lizzy simply made a preemptive strike.”
Glancing over her shoulder, he saw Monty sitting up, motioning to his iPhone.
“One last question, David. As you know, aquariums are being pressured to release their captive orca back into the wild. Even if you can locate another Megalodon pup … my question is, should you?”
He was about to answer her when Monty abruptly walked on camera, handing him his iPhone. “Your ex is blowing up both our phones … something about drowning.”
David took the phone. “Jackie?”
“Brutus escaped and I’m trapped in the hold, which is filling up with water—David, help me!”
“Calm down. Did you say Brutus escaped?”
“And I’m trapped in the goddamn hold!”
“Okay … okay.” He glanced around the deck. “Monty, the Manta’s in the dry dock; I need to get there in a hurry. Can you find us a maintenance vehicle?”
James Gelet stepped forward, his camera still rolling. “Our van is parked outside the northern gate.”
They followed him out the closest exit to the parking lot. The segment producer tossed the keys to Monty and climbed in back to film while David hopped in front, speed-dialing a number on his iPhone—
—hanging on for dear life as his friend accelerated, the van racing south across the arena’s parking lot at eighty miles an hour. “Come on, Uncle Mac … pick up.”
The call went straight to voice mail: “This is Mac. Me and the kid are busy soiling our diapers and taking naps. Leave a message if you want to annoy me, otherwise go to—”
“Uncle Mac, Jackie just called. She said Brutus escaped and the Tonga is sinking. Call the Coast Guard.”
Monty exited the lot and headed west down a private access road leading to a concrete pier. The security gate was unlocked and he bashed it open with the front bumper, accelerating along the one-lane concrete path while six-foot swells crested and broke between the pilings beneath them.
David glanced to his right. The pier ran parallel to the lagoon’s canal, which extended into the Pacific two hundred yards to the west. Farther out, the Tonga dominated the horizon, its superstructure towering above the Pacific.
If the tanker was sinking, it certainly wasn’t obvious to the naked eye.
David grabbed the dashboard as the van skidded to a halt in front of a single-story building at the far end of the dock. Exiting the vehicle, he hurried inside the submersible maintenance and launch area, known to the staff as the “Sub Shack,” where he found the institute’s chief engineer, Cyel Reed, seated at a large wood table, using a mounted magnifying glass to examine the inner workings of a pocket watch.
“Well, look who it is? Little Boss Man.”
“Cyel, I need a Manta!”
“Do you now? Did you clear it with the Big Boss Man?”
“I’m a partner; I don’t have to clear anything with anybody.”
“You’re a junior partner, Junior. That makes you a worker bee, just like me. And us worker bees don’t collect honey until we’re guaranteed the money … as in a new contract—capiche?”
David felt the blood rush to his face as Monty entered, followed by James Gelet with a camera perched on his shoulder.
“Well? What are you waiting for? Go save your Baby Mama.”
David hurried past Cyel to the back room. There were four launch cradles poised over four sealed hatches on the floor. Three were vacant, and the fourth held Manta-7, a two-man submersible with a nine-foot wingspan and contours similar to that of Manta birostris, the aquatic species that had inspired its design.
The vessel’s chassis was composed of a seamless layered acrylic that supported its cockpit, a spherical, clear, Lexan escape pod that could withstand nineteen thousand pounds per square inch of water pressure.
Powered by dual pump-jet propulsor units, the Manta was quiet, fast, and neutrally buoyant. The two hydrogen tanks mounted on its back added another gear—a forty-second burn that temporarily transformed the deep-water submersible into a rocket.
“Cyel, where’s the remote?… Never mind.” He saw the key fob hanging from its lanyard on a hook and placed it around his neck. Powering on the device, he pressed the green button labeled OPEN.
With a hiss of hydraulics, the dark-tinted acrylic top popped free from its assembly and yawned open, allowing him to climb down into the portside bucket seat of the two-man cockpit.
David powered up the engine and then quickly strapped his feet onto the two foot pedals, his eyes taking a brief scan of the wraparound control panel.
“Jesus, Cyel, the fuel cell’s at nineteen percent! How hard is it to recharge the goddamn battery?”
“Tell your new partner that he’ll get one hundred percent when I get a new contract … and don’t blaspheme in my workshop.”
“Ugh!” David resealed the cockpit and pressed LAUNCH on the keypad, causing the horizontal doors beneath the submersible to open. Gray-green swells rolled below the pier’s pilings.
David’s iPhone rang as the hydraulic cradle began lowering the Manta into the incoming surf. “Jackie?”
“David, where are you!”
“On my way.” He waited for the next swell to pass before releasing the cradle.
The Manta splashed down on its belly. David quickly engaged both foot pedals, the twin pump-jet propulsor units accelerating the submersible into the next swell—
—his right hand pushing down on the joystick, diving the craft into deeper water as it shot out from between the last set of pilings.
“Jackie, what section of the keel is the hole on?”
“Somewhere in the stern.” Jackie stood upon the steel framework, the crown of her skull pressed against the underside of the deck, the rising water already up to her knees. “David, please hurry.”
* * *
Lee Shone followed the two cameramen, key grip, soundman, makeup artist, and second unit director down three flights of stairs to a small corridor that led to a watertight door set inside the bulkhead. The mixed-martial-arts-fighter-turned-actor had been hired by the crown prince as the master of ceremonies to introduce the Liopleurodon to Dubai-Land’s VIPs. The footage taken in the hold with the Micocene whale would be used in an upcoming episode of the reality series … or so his agent was told.
Jon “Ponyboy” Cesario had directed half the reality show episodes aboard the Tonga. He was familiar with the hold, having shot six hours of worthless B-Roll of the dozing whale over the previous two weeks.
Three hours earlier his crew had mounted spotlights in half a dozen locations along the port and starboard rails in anticipation of some promised “action” shots. Having instructed his cameramen, he waited impatiently for the makeup artist to finish powdering Lee Shone’s forehead.
“Okay, big guy, we’ll get a few takes of you opening the watertight door, then it’s up to Brutus. Hopefully he’s more awake than he was earlier; otherwise we’re wasting our time.”
The British-born action star examined the steel watertight door. “So I push down on this lever and pull it open, yes?”
“Yeah, babe. Wait until we mark the scene and I say, ‘Action.’”
An assistant stepped in front of the bearded fighter, holding up a Smart Slate that displayed the time code generated by the audio recorder. “Brutus hold, scene one—take one.”
“Ready camera one.”
“Ready live shot, sound full … and action.”
Lee Shone pushed down on the handle and yanked open the watertight door—
—releasing an explosion of bone-chilling seawater that knocked the action star off his feet and blasted the film crew with the force of a fire hose.
The corridor filled within seconds, sweeping the director and his team out to the stairwell.
Still gripping the door, Lee Shone attempted to reseal the hatch, only there was nothing to brace his feet against for leverage, the water level already above his head.
Abandoning the effort, he released the door and swam out of the corridor to the stairwell to join the others.
* * *
David banked hard to starboard on a north-by-northwest heading. He descended to eighty feet, the silt-covered shallows suddenly dropping away to become a foreboding jagged crevasse, the keel of the Tonga emerging out of the murk up ahead.
Using the Manta’s headlights, he searched the tanker’s immense keel for a way in.
“Oh … geez.”
The whale’s impact had punched loose a forty-foot seam of rivets along the starboard side of the stern. The plates were still intact, but the gap was wide enough to drive a train through.
David guided the sub through the opening, his ears immediately assaulted by the sound of screeching steel.
The tanker’s superstructure’s in the stern. With all that weight, she’ll roll bow-up and sink ass-first.
“Jackie, I’m inside. Jackie, where are you?” He glanced at his iPhone, the call having disconnected.
Easing up on the foot pedals, he halved his speed and rose along one of the hold’s interior walls, his left hand redialing Jackie’s number—
—his heart racing as the phone went straight to voice mail.
“Come on, show me an air pocket.…”
He jumped as the Manta’s prow struck the steel framework supporting the tanker’s enormous deck.
The entire hold’s underwater.… I’m too late!
He caught the splash of bubbles in his peripheral vision and veered toward it.
The girl appeared pale in the sub’s lights and then she was sprawled across his hatch, her blue eyes wide in terror, her strawberry-blond hair blown out, the herky-jerky limbs telling him she was drowning, with no air pocket in which he could surface to allow her inside the sub.
“No!” David released his harness and spun around in his seat to the storage compartment, his right arm stretching out, straining to reach the pony bottle of air. Snatching it, he twisted back around and reached for the launch controls dangling from the lanyard around his neck. He pressed the green button as Jackie burped out her last bite of air and went limp, her body floating away.
Asshole … it won’t open underwater. You have to override the safety measures.
Ripping open the center console, he felt inside for the emergency override and twisted the control a half-turn counterclockwise before pulling it up—
—causing the hatch to pop loose from its seal and open, flooding the cockpit with frigid water.
David stood and pushed it open wider. Grabbing Jackie by her wrist, he dragged her limp body inside and resealed the hatch.
A yellow light labeled BILGE PUMP blinked on his dashboard. He pressed it with his left thumb as his right hand pinched Jackie’s nose and held her mouth shut. The water level had already dropped below her neck by the time he slipped the pony bottle’s mouthpiece between her purple lips and squeezed the purge button, releasing a blast of air inside her mouth that filled her belly—causing her to vomit out the seawater she had swallowed.
Continuing to pinch her nose, he opened her airway and pressed his lips to hers, expelling three quick breaths into her lungs. He paused to feel for a pulse along her carotid artery, then repeated the breathing ritual as the Tonga lurched and rolled around his vessel, sinking stern-first.
* * *
Fiesal bin Rashidi had returned to the helicopter to find his luggage stowed on board, but no pilot. He located Captain Gilbert Gregg at the Lio tank, the former Navy flight instructor standing with his back to the glass, attempting to take a selfie with his iPhone as the creature circled the aquarium.
“Pilot, the crown prince insists you fly me back to the hotel at once.”
“Sure thing. Just do me a solid and take my picture with the Lio; I can’t seem to time it right.” The captain handed him his iPhone.
“This is ridiculous; we are paying you to service our group, not to take photos. Take me back now, or I’ll toss this phone into the sea!”
“Captain, what seems to be the problem?”
Fiesal turned to see Walid Abu Naba’a and his entourage approaching.
The pilot snatched back his iPhone. “Your Highness, this man is insisting I fly him back to San Francisco.”
“Those were your orders, cousin.”
Kirsty Joyce inspected Fiesal’s pants. “Why are you all wet?”
“A harmless prank … one of the crew hosed me down when he heard I was leaving. I’ll change back at the hotel.”
The crown prince was about to respond when the crowd oohed and aahed. Turning to face the aquarium, he realized the Liopleurodon had broken off from its circular pattern and was cutting sharp figure eights, bashing its head against the thick Lexan glass.
“Fiesal, why is it behaving this way?”
“I wouldn’t know; you’ll have to ask Ms. Buchwald.”
“I can’t—I turned in my walkie-talkie. Cousin, my father is very sick; I am attempting to catch an earlier flight out of San Francisco. Please—”
“Stop whining, Fiesal.” The crown prince turned to the pilot. “Get him off my ship.”
The pilot pocketed his iPhone and headed back to the helipad, Fiesal walking ahead of him, mentally urging the man to quicken his pace.
“You’ll have to change.”
“Of course … as soon as I get back to the hotel.”
“No, you’ll change now; otherwise you’ll get the seat all wet.”
“It won’t be a problem; I’ll sit on my luggage. Please … I’m trying to catch a flight.” Reaching into his back pocket, he retrieved his wallet and pulled out three soggy hundred-dollar bills. “Your tip … in advance.”
The captain pocketed the cash in the breast pocket of his Windbreaker and climbed into his seat, starting up the engine. Fiesal ducked in back, sitting on his duffel bag. Buckling his seat belt, he placed a pair of headphones over his ears and glanced out the windows on the right side of the craft—his pulse quickening as he saw the reality show’s second unit emerge from the Tonga’s superstructure, everyone dripping wet and in a state of panic.
He could not hear their shouts over the sound of the overhead rotors, but he knew what they were saying.
He closed his eyes and thanked Allah as the chopper mercifully lifted off—
—his heart sinking as it hovered ten feet off the deck before setting down again.
“Captain, what are you doing?”
Gil Gregg motioned to the left, where the two security men in dark suits had their guns drawn and aimed at the pilot. One of the men wrenched open the sliding door and hustled the VIPs in back while the crown prince climbed up front to occupy the vacant copilot’s seat.
He turned to face Fiesal as the tanker lurched beneath them. “You would leave me to die, cousin?”
“One good turn…”
Walid Abu Naba’a motioned to the nearest bodyguard, who grabbed Fiesal by the wrist and dragged him off the chopper.
The engineer landed on his back on the helipad tarmac, the headphones ripped from his ears as the helicopter lifted off.
For a long moment Fiesal remained on his back, watching the airship disappear from view. And then he felt the tanker lurch beneath him as the Tonga’s bow rose slowly out of the sea.
* * *
The breaths aren’t getting in; she must still have water in her lungs.…
Pulling her inert body onto his lap, David reached his arms around her waist and squeezed her belly in a Heimlich maneuver. The abdominal thrust released a mixture of seawater and cappuccino, the marine biologist’s pale complexion flushing pink as she coughed and drew a breath.
She nodded, hugging him around the neck. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. Better buckle in—this could get rough.”
He helped her snap the harness across her chest. Then he strapped himself in and engaged the starboard propulsor unit, descending in a vertigo-inducing, hundred-eighty-degree roll as the tanker began sinking stern-first into the Monterey Submarine Canyon.
The Manta’s lights darted across endless walls of steel plates and dead ends.
“David, get us out of here!”
“Really?” He reached across her chest for the sonar—only to find the controls covered in vomit. Wiping the debris from the screen with his right hand, he pressed ACTIVE.
Ping … ping … ping …
The sound reverberated around the hold, painting his surroundings on the screen. He rotated the three-dimensional image until a void appeared below and to his left. Wiping his palm clean on Jackie’s pants, David reached again for the joystick—this time turning hard to port.
The Manta submersible shot out of the Tonga’s mortal wound—
—directly into the path of the eighty-foot Livyatan melvillei.
* * *
“Kess Ommak!” The Arabic curse was muffled by the dull beating of helicopter blades receding to the east and a long-drawn-out protest of steel.
Fiesal bin Rashidi jumped as the deck trembled beneath his feet. He ran to the starboard rail and looked forward in time to see the bow of the three-hundred-fifty-thousand-ton tanker slowly lift out of the Pacific, the deck shifting beneath his feet.
Five degrees …
Screams rent the air as the hundred and thirty-nine invited guests suddenly realized what was happening.
He looked to the north for a Coast Guard cutter, but saw only vacant ocean, then grabbed for the rail as the deck listed twenty degrees.
He glanced to the east and saw the walls of the Tanaka canal a half-mile swim away. Looking down, he estimated the surface to be a good six stories below, the distance increasing as the bow rose higher.
Too high to jump. Get to the stern and jump before it sinks and sucks you below with it.
He attempted to ease his way down the slanting deck to the stern by holding on to the rail, only to realize the Tonga was rotating vertically too quickly to manage his footing.
He stripped off his suit jacket and straddled the rail backward. Using the garment to protect his hands, he slid backward like a kid on a banister, quickly shooting past the mid-deck.
He looked to his left as he passed the aquarium.
Water was pouring over the lowering side of the tank. The Liopleurodon was swimming back and forth against the angled glass, its habitat diminishing by a thousand gallons a minute.
* * *
Lee Shone had escaped the flooded corridor and stairwell, only to find the watertight door leading out to the main deck blocked from the other side. With the sea rising behind him, the mixed martial arts fighter had forced the gauntlet open just enough to squeeze his way out—
—emerging on a tilting deck buried beneath a labyrinth of metal.
Like a mountain climber buried beneath an avalanche, Shone had fought his way to daylight, battling not only an entanglement of aluminum that had been the south bleacher, but a steadily increasing stream that was quickly turning into a waterfall.
Emerging from the refuse, he stood triumphantly—only to realize he had crawled out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Six hundred feet of deck rose before him like a steel mountain—the Tonga listing at forty degrees as it slipped backward into the Pacific. Water was pouring over the top of the Lio tank, the structure looming over him sixty feet up the slanted incline—
—its anchored base squealing in protest as it pulled away from the deck.
Lee Shone waded through the torrent as fast as his legs could carry him, his eyes never leaving the glass edifice barreling at him until he cleared the flood zone. He heard the crash of Lexan glass meeting aluminum bleachers a second before a wave of water and shrapnel blasted him from behind and sent him hurtling face-first against the rail. The action star held on until gray sky and blue sea returned.
“Ugh … gad almighty, whit’s next then?”
He turned to see the answer slithering his way, its crocodilian jaws snapping at him.
Without looking, Lee Shone climbed over the rail and leaped seventy feet into the Pacific.
* * *
Stamping down on both foot pedals, David wrenched the joystick hard to starboard, the Manta’s port wing just clearing the closing jaws of the Miocene whale.
“It doesn’t like the pinging.… Switch it!”
“The sonar!” David leaned across the center console, only to be flung back in his bucket seat by the harness.
Jackie reached for the sonar, shutting it off.
“No, don’t shut it off—switch it from active to passive and tell me where he is.”
She complied, pulling the headphones over her ears to hear a clickety-click sound amid the thunder of protesting steel. “Behind us … he’s turning … sounds like he’s heading deep.”
“Keep listening.” Pulling back on the joystick, David headed for the surface, keeping the sinking tanker off his starboard wing.
David leveled out the sub at thirty feet as the ocean became a deep blue tapestry of churning legs and arms and fresh bodies raining down randomly from above, each muted splash accompanied by a sinkhole of air.
A human torpedo shot past the Manta’s left wing, the bearded man’s eyes wide as he took in the dark blurred shadow of their vessel.
“Guy’s pretty deep; I’d better help him up.” David was about to loop beneath the terrified jumper when an immense object splashed down directly ahead of the sub in an eruption of churning brown limbs and receding bubbles.
The Liopleurodon righted itself and swam straight for Lee Shone, its jaws opening—
The Manta’s left wing struck the Lio in its chest, stunning the pliosaur and pile-driving it twenty feet before it twisted away. With two rapid lunges of its forelimbs, it darted toward the depths and disappeared.
* * *
It was rare that Lee Shone tasted defeat, but the fighter knew it was over. His chest burned, his legs felt like lead, and he was no longer rising. With his last ounce of strength, he reached his hand futilely for a surface still thirty feet above his head.
And then, miraculously, he was rising! With a whoosh, he broke the surface to find himself straddling a dark object, his arms wrapped around a plastic bubble … and there were people in it.
The sub carried him east to one of the walls of the canal that led inside the Tanaka Lagoon. He pulled himself out of the water onto the top of the concrete barrier, the low tide exposing a footpath that led into the empty arena.
Distant screams caused him to turn. He saw the tanker’s bow point straight into the air, towering six hundred feet above the sea. And then its twelve-story superstructure disappeared below the surface, drawing the rest of the eleven-hundred-foot-long ship with it.
* * *
Fiesal bin Rashidi quickly realized he had made a fatal mistake in not removing his shoes, dress shirt, and pants before leaping overboard. Not only were his clothes weighing him down, they were entangled around his limbs, restricting his movements. After only a dozen strokes he could barely keep his head above water.
He felt the Tonga grab hold of him as it began to sink. For an exhausting twenty seconds he fought back, his arms flailing at the surface to keep his face clear of the sea.
And then the ship went down, and he knew his life was over, the weight displacement dragging him under with a sudden ferocity that was terrifying. Water shot up into his nostrils, forcing him to pinch his nose. Within seconds his ears were popping, his head feeling as if it were in a vise, about to explode.
For a glorious second Fiesal actually thought it had exploded and that he had passed, his soul rising from the depths into heaven. And then he was out of the water, only he wasn’t dead … he was sitting on a small island, bouncing along the waves.
Looking behind him, he thought he saw Jackie Buchwald and that maybe he really was dead. And then he was back in the water, a Coast Guard cutter close by, a motorized raft bearing down on him, filled with passengers from the Tonga.
* * *
David dove the Manta after the sinking tanker, but by now the ship’s bow was seven hundred feet below the surface. Dozens of bodies were caught in its wake, chasing after the Tonga until they too disappeared into the darkness.
Copyright © 2018 by Alten Entertainment of Boca Raton, Inc.