The Judas Strain

Page 45

It seemed unguarded.

"We jump?" Susan asked, dismayed.

Monk nodded. "Can you swim?"

Susan nodded. "I'm a marine biologist."

Lisa balked. They were a good fifty feet above the water. Shouts echoed in the direction of the bow. Monk glanced at Lisa's leg, then up to her face.

She nodded. No other choice.

"We'll have to go as a group," Monk said. "One big splash will draw less attention than four."

They climbed over and held themselves steady on the rail.

Monk leaned farthest out. "Ready."

Nods all around.

Lisa's stomach churned, her leg throbbed. Pain made her see stars in the dark water, brief flashes of electric streaks.

Monk counted down, and they all leaped.

Arms flailing for balance, Lisa plunged feet first. She had done some cliff-diving in the past. Still, when she struck the water it was like landing on hard-packed dirt. The blow impacted her entire frame. Her knees buckled—then the sea gave way. She shot deep into the warm water. After the chill of the rain and wind, the lake felt like a welcoming bath.

Her momentum slowed, braking further with her arms out.

Then she was rising. She kicked and stroked back to the surface, breaking through with a gasp. All around, rain pebbled the water. Winds spat in contrary gusts.

Treading water, Lisa spotted the three others. Monk was already headed to the boat.

Ryder helped Susan. He glanced over to Lisa.

She waved him to the boat.

Her boots and sodden clothes made it harder, but she kept pace.

Monk reached the speedboat first and hauled himself up and into it like a beaching seal. He stayed low and surveyed the tender dock.

No shouts arose.

The ship still rang with alarms. Everyone was probably still heading to the upper deck, where the fugitives had last been spotted.

Ryder reached the boat next with Susan.

As Monk helped them aboard, Lisa closed the distance.

She was almost to the boat when— —something struck her leg, bumping it hard.

Startled, she floundered a bit. She searched the dark waters. Something brushed against her hip. It left a tracery of green fire in the water, flashing, then gone.

Hands grabbed her shoulders.

She almost cried out. She had not known she had reached the boat. Ryder hauled her up and over the edge.

Lisa sprawled across the floor. Abandoned tools pinched her backside. She smelled oil in her hair. But she didn't move. She breathed deeply, slowing her heart.

The engine behind her suddenly gave a watery growl. Ryder yanked off the mooring lines. Monk edged the boat away from the dock. He went slow at first, keeping their noise to a minimum.

Lisa sat up and glanced back to the dock.

A shape stepped out of the ship and onto the planks of the tender dock. Even with his face shadowed, Lisa pictured his tattoos. Rakao. The Maori leader had not been fooled. He knew there were only so many ways off this ship.

"Go!" Lisa shouted. "Full throttle, Monk!"

The engine shook, coughed a bit of water, then roared.

As Lisa stared, Rakao lifted his arm. She remembered his giant horse pistol.

"Down!" she yelled. "Everyone down!"

Muzzle fire flashed. The metal side of the boat rang from a glancing shot. The boat's speed kicked up, churning a thick wake.

Rakao fired again, but even he must have realized it was wasted. He already had a radio to his lips.

Monk sped away from the cruise ship.

Lisa noted another speedboat appear from around the stern of the cruise ship, still some distance off. It must be returning from the beachside village. It suddenly sped faster, aiming for the tender dock.

Rakao must have summoned it, preparing to give chase.

But they had a good lead.

That is, until the engine choked with a loud clank and an oily gout of smoke. The speedboat shuddered and slowed. Lisa sat higher, twisting around. She stared down at the tools she had sprawled atop. The oily towel crumpled in the back.

The boat had not been waiting to ferry passengers between boat and village—it was being repaired.

The engine's smoking grew worse. Its roar became a putter.

Ryder swore, climbed past her, and opened the hatch on the engine.

More smoke poured out.

Ryder scowled. "This little tinny's gone tits up."

Back at the cruise ship, Rakao leaped from the dock to the speedboat. It took off after them.

"We have no choice," Monk said, turning the wheel as they weakly limped along. The engine sputtered a bit more speed. "We'll have to make for shore, Hope for the best."

Lisa stared at the beach, then back toward Rakao's boat.

It would still be a close call.

Monk cajoled as much horsepower as he could. The dark forest rose before them. At least it looked dense enough to hide them.

A half minute later, the engine finally died completely.

"Swim for it!" Ryder said.

The beach was not far. Less than fifty yards.

"Abandon ship," Monk agreed. "And haul ass."

Once again, they all leaped into the lake. Lisa kicked off her boots and followed. Rakao's boat roared toward them.

Only after she hit the water did she remember something bumping her earlier, her momentary panic. But right now Rakao scared her more. Having been diving all her life, Lisa had been bumped by her fair share of inquisitive sharks.

Rakao was definitely scarier.

She kicked for shore.

Glancing behind her, she noted strange flashes in the water.

Emerald, ruby, sapphire.

Scintillations, like fire underwater.

They streaked through the water, aiming for their group.

Lisa suddenly knew what had bumped her, what sped toward them, a pack of hunters, communicating with flashes of light, a predatory Morse code.

"Swim!" she screamed.

She paddled faster.

They wouldn't make it.

It FOLLOWS THE scent trail of blood in the water. Lateral fins undulate and glide. Muscles pump water through its mantle and out its rigid rear funnel, jetting its six-foot bulk through the water. It clenches its eight arms into a tight point, a sleek muscular arrow. Its two longest tentacles flash with brilliance at their tips. Streaks of luminescence shiver in stripes along its flanks.

Guiding the pack.

Large globular eyes read the messages of its brethren.

Some sweep wide, others go deep.

The blood scent grows richer.

Lisa kicked and paddled in clean strokes.

Panic would only slow her.

The beach spread ahead, a slivery strand between the black water and dark jungle. It was a finish line she intended to cross.

Rakao's boat growled behind her.

But the Maori pirate was not who she was racing.

Streaks of watery fire jetted toward her.

Drawn by her sliced calf.


Four yards ahead, Monk and Ryder slogged out of the water, dragging Susan between them. Lisa kicked harder.


WITH ONE FINAL muscular squeeze, it sweeps toward the churn of water. It unfurls its arms, billowing them wide. Two longer tentacles shoot out, snaking through the water, blistering with yellow lights, lined by suckers barbed with chitinous hooks.

9:05 P.M.

Monk heard his name called out.

Lisa paddled toward shore, looking frantic.

Only three yards away.

Behind her the pirate boat skimmed at full throttle right toward their group. Rain poured from the open sky, dimpling the lake. Beneath the surface, winking flashes of fire, like tracer rounds in the night, shot toward Lisa.

Monk remembered the stories of this lagoon. Told by a toothless local. Demons of the deep.

He leaped back into the water. The shore fell away steeply. In two steps he was waist-deep. "Lisa!"

She glanced to him, eyes meeting. Then suddenly she jerked to a stop, snagged. Her eyes widened. "Go—" Monk lunged for her, arms out. "Your hand! Too late.

A flurry of tentacles exploded from the water, enveloping her. With neck-breaking speed, Lisa was twisted and slammed below, swamped away. The monster rolled briefly into view, sleek and fringed with small lateral wings, rippling with thin bands of electric flashes. A large black eye stared back, then vanished away.

One sleeved arm broke the surface, already two yards farther out. Then with impossible speed, it ripped through the water, a fish on a zipping line. The limb snapped back into the deep. Lisa. . .

Monk took another step, preparing to dive.

But blasts of gunfire shattered through his shock. Rounds peppered the water, driving him back, out of the water, to the sand. "Here!" Ryder yelled.

More shots coughed up divots of sand. Rifle fire cracked. He had no choice.

Monk stumbled back, into Ryder's grip, into the dark forest. Lisa. . .

Lisa struggled to hold her breath, tangled within constricting arms. Giant hooks bit into flesh, made painless by panic. She kicked and writhed. Eyes open.

Trailing flashes of light shot through the darkness. This was how she would die.

9:06 p.m.

Monk allowed himself to be pulled farther into the jungle. He had no choice. There was nothing he could do.

Through a break in the foliage, he stared back toward the black water.

The pirates' boat had slowed near the beach. Rifles bristled toward shore, searching. But Rakao stood braced in the bow, a dark silhouette with long spear in hand.

With a heave, the Maori hunter drove the length of steel into the lake.

Arcs of blue lightning sizzled outward from where it struck, brilliant in the darkness, lighting up the night and the depths of the lagoon. Waters hissed with a bubble of steam around the spear's shaft.

What was he doing?


Barely conscious, Lisa gasped the last of her trapped air. A painful shock clenched through her. The squid's embrace locked harder, experiencing the same agony, possibly even more sensitive.

Then its arms released her with a final savage twist.

Seawater burned into her nose.

Her eyes open, she saw the creature streak down into the dark depths, an arrow of emerald fire. Others followed.

Buoyancy floated her up.

Then hands grabbed her, pulled by her hair.

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