THERE WAS NO WORSE FEELING FOR GEARY THAN TO THINK that someone she loved was in danger and to not be able to get to them. Geary was hysterical as she forgot about her quest and swam as quickly as possible through the dark water.
She ignored Kat’s call. The only thing that mattered was getting topside to see what was going on.
Suddenly Arik was there, pulling Geary back. "You’ve got to calm down. You’re breathing too rapidly."
She shook her head at him. "That sounded like an explosion. I have to get up there."
"All we heard was a pop." His tone was level and calm as those blue eyes haunted her. "It could have been anything. All we know is the intercom is malfunctioning. You don’t want to die over that, do you?"
He was right and she hated him for it. Nodding, she pressed her hand against her helmet to listen more carefully. "Tory? Are you there? What’s happening?"
There was still no answer.
"Tory? Christof? Justina? Thia? Dammit. Someone answer me… please."
Arik held his breath, wishing he could ease her mind. But as the silence stretched on he knew what she did. Something had to have-
His thoughts stopped as a piece of twisted metal shot past him on the right. It was followed by more pieces that rained down around them through the water.
And it was obvious what the metal was.
"Uh, folks," Scott said, his voice shaking. "I think that’s our boat trying to kill us."
Yeah. Arik had a bad feeling the kid might be right. Shit.
Arik looked at Kat and could tell she had no more information than he did.
He closed his eyes and summoned his brother with his mind. " Solin…"
There was no answer from that end, either, which boded even more ominously than their exploded boat.
Arik let go of Megeara "All right, let’s head up. Safely."
"Okay." But he could hear the panic and fear in Megeara’s voice.
He hesitated as Megeara and Scott went first so that he could swim beside Kat. "Any clue?"
She shook her head glumly. "You know if the boat’s gone, so’s our air supply."
He’d thought of that himself. So far their air was holding. Which was another reason they needed to get up immediately. They didn’t have much reserve, and since he was human, he could die here, which was the last thing he wanted. Kat was the only one of them who didn’t have that fear. Lucky bitch.
As they swam for the first decompression station, Arik tried his best to reach Solin repeatedly while Megeara continued to call through her intercom for the others.
And repeatedly there was nothing from above, except for a few pieces of metal that continued to float by as they headed for the floor of the sea. Yeah, nothing like watching your life pass you by, knowing you were even more sunk than it was if you didn’t get to air soon.
They reached the first tank, which held two breathing hoses. The women went first, then he and Scott.
They traded the lines back and forth as they waited for their bodies to adjust to the new depth before they swam any higher.
But each of them was rattled by what could have happened to the boat and the others.
He hesitated as, he finally heard Solin’s voice in his head. " What’s going on?"
"The boat was blown up."
"No shit. We rather got that, as parts of it almost crushed us in the water. What happened and why didn’t you stop it?"
"Yeah, right. Stop it, my ass. I’m not messing with this one."
Arik cursed at Solin’s selfishness. " Dammit, Solin. There’s not enough air in the line for us. We might not make it back."
"Is that supposed to mean something to me? You’re all going to die anyway, right? What’s the point? I still have to live here after you’re all gone."
If Arik could lay hands on Solin, he’d kill him.
"This isn’t a game, Solin."
"No, it isn’t. And you’re on your own. Good luck."
Arik ground his teeth as he took the hose from Megeara so that he could take a turn breathing. " You better pray I don’t make it up there to you."
"Praying’s for amateurs and you got much bigger problems than me."
Arik felt Solin drifting away from his thoughts. Megeara took the hose and breathed deeply before she swam upward again. Arik and the others followed her.
They were halfway to the second station when more debris started falling through the water. What the hell? Had another boat blown up?
Arik swam up to Megeara as she started moving even faster.
"Megeara. Stop. We have to breathe slowly. You know that. Stay calm and focused."
Geary wanted to shove him away from her, but she knew he was right. She couldn’t afford to fight him in the water. Right now, they had reserve air at the stations. They could stay there until their bodies readjusted. Then they could hold their breath and move to the next. But this was taking too long for her tastes.
She had to know what was going one. What had happened to the others.
Her heart heavy, she looked at Scott, who had tears in his eyes. "We’ll be okay, Scott."
The doubt he held burned through her. "Yeah, right."
"No more talking," Kat snapped at them. "We have to preserve what air we got."
Arik took Geary’s hand and squeezed it before he urged her up through the water. Geary obeyed, but as she swam a thousand thoughts went through her mind. Her brother had died over a malfunction in his tank.
She’d always wondered what had gone through Jason’s mind in those last few minutes as he realized his life was about to end. She had to say it sucked. Memories and unfulfilled dreams poured through her with a burning intensity.
She didn’t want to die. She was young and though she hadn’t dated much, she still held on to the dream that one day she’d meet a great guy and have kids. That she would grow old with someone who treasured her as much as she treasured him. Was that too much to ask?
There was so much she wanted to do. And now she might never even see daylight again. It wasn’t fair-to come so close to her goal and die before she could finish her quest.
But the worst thought was that Tory and Thia might be dead. Justina, Teddy, Christof, and all the others…
And it would be her fault. All her fault. God, how had her father lived with the guilt? No wonder he’d become an alcoholic. In that moment, she had an understanding of him that she’d never had before. She’d spent so much time blaming him that she hadn’t even considered the blame he’d reserved for himself. The gnawing pain of knowing he’d endangered his family and the memory of them dying because of his actions.
I am so sorry. Dad.
If she got out of this and if the others were okay, it was over. She would never jeopardize other people again. This was just a stupid dream that wasn’t worth another drop of blood. Another life. Atlantis didn’t want to be found.
She was through.
Suddenly Geary realized that the water was getting lighter. Looking up, she could see the sunlight refracting in the waves over her head.
Not much farther… Her joy was tempered by the fear of what she would find there waiting for her. Of what’d happened to the rest of their crew. Horrific images haunted her. Thoughts of Tory and Thia lying facedown in the water. Or disfigured… of them calling out to her for help…
Please, please, please be okay.
Her throat was getting tighter as she neared the top. The pain of having no air in her lungs was oppressive and painful. Her lungs burned like fire as even more panic tore through her. How tragic to die this close to their destination. Just a few feet more and she’d reach the surface.
She began unfastening her helmet as she kicked up. Her limbs felt so heavy. Her heart was pounding from the strain. She wanted to take a breath so badly but knew that she couldn’t.
By the time she reached the top, she had the helmet off. Geary tossed it aside as she finally gulped air.
She was shaking and cold as water rushed into her suit. But it was so good to be breathing freely again that she didn’t even care.
She turned a circle in the water trying to get her bearings. The first thing she saw was the smoldering remains of their boat-not that there was much of it left.
Hysterical, she started swimming for it, only to have someone pull at her. She turned to find Arik there.
"They’re dead," she sobbed, pulling away from him. "I have to go find them."
"They’re not dead."
Anger tore through her and as she opened her mouth to tell him not to patronize her. He pointed in the opposite direction of the boat.
She looked to find the small life raft that held Tory, Justina, Solin, Althea, Thia, Christof and Brian. Relief tore through her with such ferocity that she sank back under the waves.
Arik caught her against him and helped her back to the surface. She was laughing and crying as she wrapped herself around him and kissed him. He’d never seen anything like this. It was like her emotions were completely beyond her control. She smiled at him before she left and headed for the others.
Baffled, he treaded water while Kat and Scott popped up beside him.
"Thank the gods," Kat sat after she’d tossed her helmet aside.
"What the hell happened to the boat?" Scott asked.
Kat gave him a "duh" stare. "It appears to have blown up."
"Yeah, but why?"
She gave Arik a harsh stare. "That’s an interesting question, isn’t it?"
"Yes, it is."
Scott immediately swam after Megeara while Kat and Arik hung back.
"Do you think Zebulon had a hand in this?" he asked her.
Kat shook her head. "Not his style. He’d have simply crushed all of us and left nothing behind. No, this was a thoughtless act."
"I don’t know, but I will find out."
Arik frowned. There was an odd note in her voice and he had a sneaking suspicion that she knew exactly who was behind this and didn’t want to betray them, him or her.
Arik would have blamed this on the Dolophoni, but it wasn’t their style, either. Their fight was with him, which meant they’d have come to fight him in the water and not bothered threatening the ones on the surface. Not to mention, the Dolophoni wouldn’t have been this sloppy. No, had they been here, he would have known it. For that matter, he’d be bleeding from it.
So then who?
Damn, enemies were falling out of the trees. Lucky them.
LAUGHING HYSTERICALLY, GEARY PULLED HERSELF ONTO the raft and grabbed both Tory and Thia in a giant hug.
"Hey! You’re getting me wet!" Thia snapped, shoving at her.
Geary ignored Thia as she held her close. "Thank God you guys are all right."
Tory kissed her cheek. "And so’s Kichka." She held up the material in her lap to show a very upset cat, who was hissing at them. "I scooped her up on the way out."
Geary kissed the top of her cat’s furry head before she took Kichka from Tory and looked around at the others. Everyone was there and accounted for. "What happened?"
Tory indicated Solin with her thumb. "Solin said he smelled a gas leak. If not for him, we’d all be dead now."
Geary scowled at the explanation. "Gas leak? How? Christof and I are always meticulous about inspecting everything."
Tory shrugged. "I don’t know."
They both looked at Solin, who seemed strangely imperious even though his hair was tousled and there were black stains on his immaculate suit. "I merely smelled it and had a bad feeling that something was about to, pardon the pun, blow."
"Uh-huh," Geary said, stroking her cat. "You have these psychic moments often?"
One corner of his mouth lifted into a mocking grin. "You have no idea."
There was such a strange note in his voice that it actually sent a chill down her spine.
Teddy passed a small flask toward her. "For you, Skipper. We’re glad all of you made it back in one piece."
Geary thanked him as Arik, Kat, and Scott joined them on the raft. She didn’t miss the hostile look Arik passed to Solin before he came to sit beside her.
"You better?" he asked.
"Good." Arik reached to pet Kichka on the head. Kichka hissed and spat at him before she reached out with one paw to pop his hand.
Arik jerked his hand away from her claws.
Geary was stunned. In all the time she’d had her cat, Kichka had never behaved in such a manner.
Arik scowled before he moved out of the cat’s reach.
"Kichka," Tory admonished. "What’s gotten into you, girl?"
It was Solin who answered. "She’s probably just upset over what’s happened. It’s been a crazy, mad day."
Maybe. But there was something very strange going on here and Geary wanted to know what it was.
Geary turned her head to look at the remnants of the boat as help came. It’d been a close call. Too close. Today they had all been lucky.
She didn’t want to think about that. God, what if Solin hadn’t smelled the leak? What if the others hadn’t listened to him? Instead of boat chunks flying by, it would have been her friends and family.
The thought sobered her.
"We have backups of all the data," Tory said, taking Kichka from Geary’s hands. "We can redo everything."
"No," Geary said, her tone firm. "We’re through with this."