But again the glint drew her eye. It was the same object, whirling past the tiny window now.
Leaning closer, Karen recognized the bit of flotsam.
A pair of eyeglasses. Its lenses broken, its frame twisted and bent.
She covered a gasp with a hand over her mouth.
8:15 A.M., Nautilus
Hidden in a cloud of silt, Jack edged his sub along the base of the cliff, clinging under a lip of rock to diminish his sonar shadow to the sub above. He feathered his pedals with the lightest touches, trying to move no faster than the current. He dared not move any quicker, lest he raise a wake trail in the cloud and reveal his position. Overhead, the glow of the Perseus’s spotlight swept past in a crisscrossing pattern, searching, waiting for the silt to settle.
Jack knew he had to be gone before that happened.
Still, he forced himself to maintain a snail’s pace, flying the sub blind, no lights, guided by sonar alone. He edged forward. His goal: a side canyon up ahead. He had no idea where it led or if it was a blind alley, but knew he had to be out of the main channel before the cloud dissipated.
Then a voice blared from his radio earpiece. “I know you’re down there, Kirkland. You can’t hide forever.”
Spangler…great…no surprise there.
Jack remained silent, playing dead.
“I have your woman trapped at the sea base, and your ship impounded. Show yourself and I’ll let the others live.”
Jack resisted the urge to laugh. Sure you will.
The silence stretched. David’s voice returned again, growing more angry. “Would you like me to teach Professor Grace a few lessons in your absence? Perhaps hear her screams as Lieutenant Rolfe rapes her?”
Jack clenched his hands into fists but remained silent. Revealing himself would hurt Karen more than it would help. His best chance lay in stealth.
Ahead, a side canyon finally opened on the right. Jack guided the Nautilus into the narrow cut. He juiced the thrusters. Sonar feed began to fill the computer navigation screen. He sighed in relief. The side canyon was not a dead end. It wound far, branching and dividing.
Anxious, he moved more swiftly. He raced along the deep crack. Walls flashed past. He needed time and distance to shake the bastard.
“Where you going, Jack?” Lights flared behind him.
Jumping, Jack craned around. Damn it…
The Perseus swept down into the slot canyon after him, diving with murderous intent.
Staring behind him, Jack realized his error. A dusty spray of silt trailed behind the sub’s tail, coughed up from the seabed floor by his passage. A clear trail. A stupid mistake.
Giving up any pretense of hiding, he speared on his lamplight and floored the pedals. The Nautilus shot up, corkscrewing out of the canyon.
As he spun, a minitorpedo zipped past the sub’s dome, narrowly missing his vessel. To the left, a brief explosion flared as the torpedo struck a seamount, its thunder echoing through his hydrophones.
Jack tilted his sub into a steep dive, riding the shockwave, and dropped into a neighboring canyon. Flattening out, the bottom of his sub scraped through the silt, casting up a cloud.
What had betrayed him a moment ago could save him now. He thumbed off his lamp and coasted without thrusters, vanishing into the widening cloud of sand and silt.
He heard David over the radio, swearing. In David’s anxiousness to pursue him, he had forgotten his radio line was still open. Jack did not correct this mistake. He eavesdropped. “Goddamn you, Kirkland. I’ll see you die before this day is out.”
Jack grinned. Keep trying, asshole. He raced down the chute, gliding around an outcropping. A sonar warning chimed. The canyon ended in a flat cliff face only twenty yards away.
“Oh, shit…” He flung the thrusters in reverse, earning a high-pitched whine of protest, and flung the nose of the sub straight up. But it wasn’t enough to halt his momentum. The bottom of the Nautilus struck the wall hard.
Jarred forward, the belts of his harness dug into his shoulders. He forced himself back and worked the thrusters, climbing straight up the wall.
A new warning rang from his computer. His batteries were running low.
Clearing the wall, Jack leveled out and sped along the mount’s summit. He prayed his power lasted long enough. Sensing movement on his left, he turned and was blinded by a shaft of light.
The Perseus flew out of a nearby canyon, straight at him.
Rather than being rammed broadside, Jack rolled the sub, taking the collision on his undercarriage. The Nautilus jolted violently. Struck at the stern, Jack’s sub spun. He struggled to right himself, to no avail. The sub struck the seamount, burying its nose in the thick silt.
Sweating, ears ringing, he fought the thrusters to tug himself out.
With a groan of stressed metal, the Nautilus popped free.
As he swung his sub upright, he peripherally saw the Perseus swinging in a tight loop, its torpedo array swiveling in his direction.
Time to go!
He slammed the foot pedals. Thrusters whined. The sub rumbled and tremored but refused to move. His front thruster assembly was jammed with sand. “C’mon, c’mon…”
He slammed the sub into reverse, blowing clear the choked props.
The Perseus sped closer, determined not to miss this time. “Ready to die, Kirkland?”
Free of debris, Jack goosed his thrusters. With no time to escape, he aimed straight for his adversary, playing a risky game of chicken, trusting in David’s cowardice. An explosion too close would threaten David’s own sub.
He floored the foot pedals and streaked forward.
Rather than shying, the Perseus remained on course.
Jack flicked on his xenon lamp. Light lanced out to stab the other sub, blinding its pilot.
At the last moment Spangler angled away.
Jack flashed under the enemy sub. He caught a quick glimpse of David sprawled on his belly in his cigar-shaped glass pod. Then the Perseus was gone.
Watching it retreat, Jack spotted the torpedo array spinning to track him as the Perseus fled. A finger of fire spat from the array.
Jack straightened in his seat. The nearest canyon lay too far away. His sonar picked up the incoming torpedo as it sped toward him. He found himself leaning forward, as if that would increase his speed. “Move it…”
Laughter sounded over his radio. “Adios, asshole!”
Jack realized he would never make the canyon. He searched for other options and spotted a large boulder resting on the seamount’s summit. Slamming the left pedal, he dove at a steep angle toward it.
“Suicide, Jack? At least die with honor!”
Jack’s gaze flickered between the speeding torpedo and the oncoming collision. He bit his lip, calculating. At the last moment, he blew out his ballast tanks and gunned his thrusters. The nose end of his sub slammed into the silty bottom in front of the boulder—and bounced.
With the increased buoyancy, the tiny vessel flipped over the boulder, like a gymnast flying over a vaulting horse.
But the torpedo couldn’t.
The huge rock burst under the Nautilus. The blast shoved up the sub’s stern, peppering its underside with shards. Jack whooped, riding the concussion while sucking up new ballast. The shock wave shoved him right over the edge of the canyon.
He dove, dropping like a lead weight straight into the next chute.
Near the bottom, he angled out, skimming along the seabed. Relief and excitement mixed, but it was short-lived. The dark waters above him soon grew lighter as David pursued, closing in with his faster sub.
Jack examined his sonar readings. A strange shadow showed up ahead. He kept his lamps lit, unsure what was coming.
He needed a place to hide—and soon!
Sliding around a slight curve in the canyon, he spotted the anomaly. An arch of rock spanned the chute, a high bridge of thin stone.
He glided under it. It was too small to hide him, but it gave him an idea. He slowed and settled to the silty bottom.
It was time to even the odds.
Situation Room, White House
Lawrence Nafe stood before the computerized strategy map glowing on the rear wall of the White House’s Situation Room. Behind him were gathered the Joint Chiefs, the Cabinet, and the Secret Service.
On the map, the tiny island of Okinawa glowed red.
Destroyed. Hundreds of thousands killed in a blinding flash.
His Secretary of Defense spoke behind him. “We need to choose a target, Mr. President. Retaliation must be swift and severe.”
Nafe stepped away from the map and turned around. “Beijing.”
The men around the table stared.
“Burn it to the bedrock.”
8:55 A.M., Perseus
On his belly in the sub’s sleek pod, David sped around a curve. Sweat ran down his face, into his nose and mouth. He didn’t bother wiping it away. He dared not release his grip on the controls. A heads-up display glowed across the poly-acrylic nose cone. Sonar lines were superimposed over the view of the real terrain.
Circling around the bend, David spotted his quarry. He smiled. So the bastard hadn’t escaped the blast unharmed.
Under an arch of stone, Jack’s darkened sub limped and teetered, clearly compromised. David watched as the desperate man fought to get his sub moving, sand and silt choking up, but with no success. His sub continued to founder.
Like a fledgling with an injured wing.
“Having problems?” he radioed over.
“Go fuck yourself!”
David grinned. He lowered the Perseus, adjusting his lights to illuminate the interior of the other sub’s dome.
Inside, he saw Jack struggling.
Excited, David lifted his sub and angled over his enemy. As he glided under the arch, he adjusted the Perseus’s lights, keeping the focus on his trapped enemy. It gave him a thrill to see Jack fighting frantically for his life. As David passed directly over the damaged sub, the two adversaries faced each other.
Jack glanced up at him, while David grinned down.
That close, David saw no fear in Jack’s eyes, only satisfaction. Jack lifted a hand and flipped him off—then the Nautilus blasted straight up.
Caught off guard, David couldn’t get out of the way in time. The two vessels collided. David’s chin cracked against the pod. He bit the tip of his tongue. Stars flared across his vision; blood filled his mouth.