"Jesus," the pilot said. "Eighteen-knot current? Don't fall overboard!" He laughed.
Rachel did not laugh. "Mike, you didn't mention this megaplume, magma dome, hot-current situation."
He put a reassuring hand on her knee. "It's perfectly safe, trust me."
Rachel frowned. "So this documentary you were making out here was about this magma dome phenomenon?"
"Megaplumes and Sphyrna mokarran."
"That's right. You mentioned that earlier."
Tolland gave a coy smile. "Sphyrna mokarran love warm water, and right now, every last one for a hundred miles is congregating in this mile-wide circle of heated ocean."
"Neat." Rachel gave an uneasy nod. "And what, pray tell, are Sphyrna mokarran?"
"Ugliest fish in the sea."
Tolland laughed. "Great hammerhead shark."
Rachel stiffened beside him. "You've got hammerhead sharks around your boat?"
Tolland winked. "Relax, they're not dangerous."
"You wouldn't say that unless they were dangerous."
Tolland chuckled. "I guess you're right." He called playfully up to the pilot. "Hey, how long has it been since you guys saved anyone from an attack by a hammerhead?"
The pilot shrugged. "Gosh. We haven't saved anyone from a hammerhead in decades."
Tolland turned to Rachel. "See. Decades. No worries."
"Just last month," the pilot added, "we had an attack where some idiot skin diver was chumming-"
"Hold on!" Rachel said. "You said you hadn't saved anyone in decades!"
"Yeah," the pilot replied. "Saved anyone. Usually, we're too late. Those bastards kill in a hurry."
From the air, the flickering outline of the Goya loomed on the horizon. At half a mile, Tolland could make out the brilliant deck lights that his crewmember Xavia had wisely left glowing. When he saw the lights, he felt like a weary traveler pulling into his driveway.
"I thought you said only one person was onboard," Rachel said, looking surprised to see all the lights.
"Don't you leave a light on when you're home alone?"
"One light. Not the entire house."
Tolland smiled. Despite Rachel's attempts to be lighthearted, he could tell she was extremely apprehensive about being out here. He wanted to put an arm around her and reassure her, but he knew there was nothing he could say. "The lights are on for security. Makes the ship look active."
Corky chuckled. "Afraid of pirates, Mike?"
"Nope. Biggest danger out here is the idiots who don't know how to read radar. Best defense against getting rammed is to make sure everyone can see you."
Corky squinted down at the glowing vessel. "See you? It looks like a Carnival Cruise line on New Year's Eve. Obviously, NBC pays your electric."
The Coast Guard chopper slowed and banked around the huge illuminated ship, and the pilot began maneuvering toward the helipad on the stern deck. Even from the air, Tolland could make out the raging current pulling at the ship's hull struts. Anchored from its bow, the Goya was aimed into the current, straining at its massive anchor line like a chained beast.
"She really is a beauty," the pilot said, laughing.
Tolland knew the comment was sarcastic. The Goya was ugly. "Butt-ugly" according to one television reviewer. One of only seventeen SWATH ships ever built, the Goya's Small-Waterplane-Area Twin-Hull was anything but attractive.
The vessel was essentially a massive horizontal platform floating thirty feet above the ocean on four huge struts affixed to pontoons. From a distance, the ship looked like a low-slung drilling platform. Up close, it resembled a deck barge on stilts. The crew quarters, research labs, and navigation bridge were housed in a series of tiered structures on top, giving one the rough impression of a giant floating coffee table supporting a hodgepodge of multistaged buildings.
Despite its less than streamlined appearance, the Goya's design enjoyed significantly less water-plane area, resulting in increased stability. The suspended platform enabled better filming, easier lab work, and fewer seasick scientists. Although NBC was pressuring Tolland to let them buy him something newer, Tolland had refused. Granted, there were better ships out there now, even more stable ones, but the Goya had been his home for almost a decade now-the ship on which he had fought his way back after Celia's death. Some nights he still heard her voice in the wind out on deck. If and when the ghosts ever disappeared, Tolland would consider another ship.
When the chopper finally set down on the Goya's stern deck, Rachel Sexton felt only half-relieved. The good news was that she was no longer flying over the ocean. The bad news was that she was now standing on it. She fought off the shaky sensation in her legs as she climbed onto the deck and looked around. The deck was surprisingly cramped, particularly with the helicopter on its pad. Moving her eyes toward the bow, Rachel gazed at the ungainly, stacked edifice that made up the bulk of the ship.
Tolland stood close beside her. "I know," he said, talking loudly over the sound of the raging current. "It looks bigger on television."
Rachel nodded. "And more stable."
"This is one of the safest ships on the sea. I promise." Tolland put a hand on her shoulder and guided her across the deck.
The warmth of his hand did more to calm Rachel's nerves than anything he could have said. Nonetheless, as she looked toward the rear of the ship, she saw the roiling current streaming out behind them as though the ship was at full throttle. We're sitting on a megaplume, she thought.
Centered on the foremost section of rear deck, Rachel spied a familiar, one-man Triton submersible hanging on a giant winch. The Triton-named for the Greek god of the sea-looked nothing like its predecessor, the steel-encased Alvin. The Triton had a hemispherical acrylic dome in front, making it look more like a giant fishbowl than a sub. Rachel could think of few things more terrifying than submerging hundreds of feet into the ocean with nothing between her face and the ocean but a sheet of clear acrylic. Of course, according to Tolland, the only unpleasant part of riding in the Triton was the initial deployment-being slowly winched down through the trap door in the Goya's deck, hanging like a pendulum thirty feet above the sea.
"Xavia is probably in the hydrolab," Tolland said, moving across the deck. "This way."
Rachel and Corky followed Tolland across the stern deck. The Coast Guard pilot remained in his chopper with strict instructions not to use the radio.
"Have a look at this," Tolland said, pausing at the stern railing of the ship.
Hesitantly, Rachel neared the railing. They were very high up. The water was a good thirty feet below them, and yet Rachel could still feel the heat rising off the water.
"It's about the temperature of a warm bath," Tolland said over the sound of the current. He reached toward a switch-box on the railing. "Watch this." He flipped a switch.
A wide arc of light spread through the water behind the ship, illuminating it from within like a lit swimming pool. Rachel and Corky gasped in unison.
The water around the ship was filled with dozens of ghostly shadows. Hovering only feet below the illuminated surface, armies of sleek, dark forms swam in parallel against the current, their unmistakable hammer-shaped skulls wagging back and forth as if to the beat of some prehistoric rhythm.
"Christ, Mike," Corky stammered. "So glad you shared this with us."