“COME ON, NEREID. HANG in there.” Peter, at the wheel, muttered through the bandanna tied over his nose and mouth against the ash and fumes. “Get us through here, I’ll pray to old Poseidon himself.”
The engines roared and rattled in response, dinged-up prop vibrating to the point of damage, but he had to push her. They were entering the channel, skirting a fresh lava flow. The pumice chunks formed a thick carpet now, undulating on their wake. Even working the poles, the gals couldn’t fend them all off. “Damn!”
A muffled call. Ariadne, gray wraith in the bow, Peter’s spare shades dusted with ash, turned to gesture to port.
He nodded and swung wide around the floating wreckage of a fishing boat. The smashed timbers were festooned with plastic bags, a rusted bucket, seagull carcass, rumpled wad of cloth.
“Wait!” Ariadne shouted up at him, pointing at the wreckage.
“Fuck! Gross!” Leeza, covered head to toe in some kind of hazmat jumpsuit, pulled down the filter mask she’d produced from her bags. “Keep going, Mitchell! It’s a body, who knows what germs!” She slapped the mask back on and pushed the pole at some pumice.
He blinked and saw the bundle of rags was a bloated corpse. For once Conreid was talking sense. He edged the throttles up to the tooth-rattling point, just below the rpm’s that really triggered the hammering hull tremors. His ears were ringing with the engine noise. They had to get through the channel.
“Mr. Mitchell!” A hand tugged on his arm.
“Shit, don’t do that!”
Ariadne was pointing at the corpse. “We must bring the body in.”
“No way!” He turned back to the wheel. “No time. What about that quake?”
She winced and rubbed her temples. “I can’t sense the pressure now. Perhaps I was—”
He caught her arm, eyes widening as he looked past her.
She blinked, turning to look at the narrowing rock walls of the channel. The shivering flotsam of pumice, burned lumber, fishing nets, oil drum was slowly subsiding. The seawater level was sinking down the walls.
Ariadne turned and stared into his eyes. Recognition and shock echoed between them.
She gasped and hustled down the ladder to grab her pole. “Hurry, Peter! We may have only minutes!”
He didn’t need her to tell him. Subsidence. Front trough of a tsunami wave train. They had to get through the channel into deeper water.
He shoved both the throttles forward. Nereid surged ahead erratically, turbos screaming, hull shuddering deep in the guts, trying to tear herself apart. They plowed through the floating chunks, crashing and clanging off the bow.
“Motherfucker!” Leeza, dropping her pole, stumbled and went sliding back, catching the rail. She shot him the bird and kicked the pole aside, huffing off to the stern.
Gripping the wheel, arms shaking with the tremors of the laboring boat, Peter wrestled her around another floating mass of tangled boards and lines and bleached bones. He rammed on through more debris, muttering half-forgotten prayers they didn’t catch a piece of net wrapping the shaft or they’d all be corpses. Ariadne, in the bow, gripped with one hand and still gamely tried to fend off floating pumice with the pole.
“Let it go! Get aft and tie yourselves onto storm lines!” The sea level was still dropping down the channel walls. Up ahead, open sea. Close. Not close enough.
Jostling, shivering, the flotsam had stopped sinking.
“Shit!” He pushed Nereid for a final spurt. The damaged prop churned up flailing foam, roar of the engines deafening, boat pitching, all wrong forcing her, but he could feel the seas gathering, sucking the water in like a giant breath, all those tons and tons gathering to come crashing down. He muscled through a last clot of pumice and debris panicky voice shrieking in his ears Hurry Hurry rank sweat cold plastering itchy grit down his back—
Finally! They roared past the cut and Out.
He shuddered, gasping, easing off the throttles. Somewhere hot metal stink and oil burning. Christ, he was going to have a mess on his hands down in the engine room. If the shaft bearing went she was fucked, but they just needed to get a little farther out into deep water. He checked the chart readouts and matched the dropping bottom contours until they were past the point where a crest would break. He sagged and dropped her back to a steady chug.
“Sorry, Nereid, old gal. You did it.” He patted the rail.
As if nodding, the bow rose and slowly dipped over a smooth rolling hummock of ocean swell passing under the boat.
He pulled off the bandanna and wiped his face, turning to call back below. “That was the wavefront passing. We’re okay.”
“What? You’ve got to be kidding!” Leeza flung down her storm line, unzipped her jumpsuit, and pulled off her camera goggles. She threw back her head and laughed. “Fucking-A! Really had us going, Captain Dreck! What a joke.” Kicking away the jumpsuit, she snorted and gestured at the smooth seas rolling past.
Peter grabbed his binoculars and scanned back over their heads. The first tsunami crest was hitting the shallows now, rearing up and up into raging whitewater, unreal against the distant stark ashy islands. His ears were still ringing. He caught a sharp breath as the monster wave smashed into the mouth of the channel, flinging foam high up the walls, churning the channel full of debris. He could feel the second wave front passing smoothly beneath them.
Ariadne was peering over the stern rail. She shuddered and turned to look up at Peter, her face gone pale. She slid down to sit on the deck, head in her hands.
“Hey, Conreid, bring your gear up here. Got a good zoom on that camera?” He suppressed a grin and waved her up.
She shrugged, but climbed up. He gestured back toward the channel.
Rolling her eyes, she raised the goggles to her face again. The second wave was just hitting the channel.
She jerked back against him, and he steadied her.
“What?” She gasped, then whispered, “Madre. . . .” She went white and slumped back limp into Peter’s arms.
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