Hi, friends. Thank you for reading these chapters of The Bones of the King. I realize it's daunting to enter D.T. Rhysing's world, but I'm confident you'll enjoy it once you're fully immersed.
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The shrill screech of the UWT was unrelenting. D.T. turned the volume down to a whisper and checked the sub’s system parameters. Their ascent rate of 300 feet per minute was not top speed, but it was as fast as he thought necessary and gave him time to gather his wits and prepare. It would do them no good to arrive on the scene without a plan. And the plan, which he quickly outlined to Detective McCoy, was simple, though it hadn’t started out that way. For a moment at the outset of the incident, listening to Noah’s cry of alarm, D.T. was thrust back into a darker time in deeper water and was lost, literally, in memories of an event that he struggled with always. Overwhelmed with choices, faced with so many possibilities to prepare for that there was no way to take care of them all, he didn’t know where to begin. Then the wail of the UWT drove all else from his mind and he knew what they would be dealing with topside.
Twice in the past ten years he had heard the identical banshee scream issuing from an underwater telephone system. On each occasion the transmitting unit had been in a fire and had produced the same infernal howl, as if the circuits could feel the flames eating into their electronic souls. The split second of paralysis would not have registered with McCoy and the danger to Noah had slammed shut the window on that other world.
With a flick of his wrist D.T. had pointed the Hot Runner for the sky and fed her the juice. His feet were pressed back into the acceleration pads and his weight had shifted from his chest and hips and elbows to the balls of his feet. It was normally a pleasant sensation after a prolonged dive but now he had little time to enjoy it. They were climbing fast.
When D.T. designed the Hot Runner it was the regal look of a cruising manta ray that he strove to capture in steel and fiberglass. To a great degree, the Hot Runner mimicked that look almost perfectly. Her wings were fixed and quite a bit stubbier than those of the manta but the effect was perfect for their purposes. They extended seamlessly from the hull with a small positive dihedral and were almost invisible when viewed from ahead of the craft. Their thick roots supported and enclosed two main propulsion thrusters, then tapered to thin cambered, virtually neutral lift water foils. A pair of tiny flaperons was set into the trailing edge of the wings and was used in conjunction with the twin rudders mounted aft to help the Hot Runner turn on a dime in extreme maneuvers.
The skin of the Hot Runner was a proprietary design silicon-polymer coating that promoted and enhanced laminar flow of seawater across its surface. This feature, coupled with the sleek teardrop hull and a high power to weight ratio let them fly through the water at ten knots. At that speed there was a tremendous drain on the available power of the batteries, but if they needed to and were willing to spend the electrons the sub could move quite quickly. D.T. was willing and from the sound of it, Noah needed them to.
McCoy was busy preparing to exit the sub with two life preservers and a portable fire extinguisher. The life preservers were folded into small plastic pouches and shoved into his shirt. The fire extinguisher was a powerful Halon model in a special high-pressure cylinder the size of a large thermos. It was anybody’s guess whether it would do any good once they got to the surface, but if he needed it and didn’t have it with him then the question would be moot.
By the time D.T. had finished instructing McCoy and checking his ascent profile the Hot Runner had left the darkness and five hundred feet of seawater behind them. Ahead a pale blue and silver circle of light filled the limits of their vision, growing ever wider and brighter. At one hundred feet they could begin to make out details of the ocean’s surface above. Their target was a black smudge at the center of a series of concentric shock rings that overlaid the normal cris-crossing linear patterns created by wave chop and swells. There had been no other vessels in the area when they dove and no keels were visible from their vantage point. Normally they would arrest their ascent at twenty feet and put up the camera mast but something told D.T. there was no time. They were going to surface so close to the Safe Boat that he felt sure they would avoid any danger other than that posed by the burning craft. He had to take the chance for Noah’s sake.
D.T. bled off speed by making a wide circuit of the Safe Boat hull. They were banked hard over into the port turn and had almost boxed the compass when he saw a body floating motionless in the water some twenty feet from the stricken craft. He jinked once, pulled into an almost vertical climb and powered upward. The Hot Runner broke the surface, rose for an eternity into the smoke filled sky and then crashed down into the water with a huge splash. The weight of their keel kept them upright and very quickly restored the sub’s surface equilibrium.
“Go!” D.T. shouted.
McCoy opened the hatch and was outside faster than D.T. thought possible. The detective dove in directly in front of the view port and swam like he had a three-day liberty he couldn’t wait to get started on. D.T. hit the master trip switch to shut down all thruster power and went topside with the first aid kit and another fire extinguisher. Things were far worse than he had imagined and again, for just a moment, before the need for action spurred him on, D.T. was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the casualty they were dealing with.
The Safe Boat was fully engulfed in flames, drifting on a light breeze and trailing a rapidly spreading slick of burning gasoline. She was facing south, her starboard side to seaward, and was sitting lower in the water than usual. The Hot Runner had surfaced too close and now there was a very real need to move away to safety. Acrid black smoke boiled from the hulk and from the sea and rose over and above them as D.T. watched McCoy.
The big detective proved to be a very good swimmer, pulling strongly toward the inert body of Noah Spencer with an efficient crawl. Just as it looked like McCoy was going to win the race the wind freshened and the line of flame pulled itself toward Noah. With a grisly puff of white smoke, Noah’s hair burst into flame and he seemed to twitch in the water like a sleeper trapped in a nightmare from which there was no escape. D.T. screamed at McCoy but it was too late, or so he thought, until he saw the detective’s shoulders and back rise up out of the water in the characteristic surge of a sprinter using a butterfly stroke. As McCoy brought his hands together to penetrate the water he kept them flat and outstretched and sent up a wall of water directed right at Noah’s head. Noah disappeared behind this splash and D.T. saw the legs and feet of McCoy kick hard once, before he too, disappeared.
Noah’s head was smoking but no longer on fire. The flames around him seemed to have been forced back briefly by McCoy’s targeted spray, but they were soon going to close over him like a wave. As D.T. watched, Noah was jerked under the water as suddenly as if a shark had chosen that moment to put him out of his misery. D.T. was just about to go below and see if he could see what had happened through the viewports when McCoy surfaced with Noah in tow in a cross-chest carry. They had covered an amazing stretch of water submerged and as D.T. watched he saw Noah spit up a mouthful of seawater. Something knocked against his feet and he looked down to see the fire extinguisher and the two life preservers McCoy had carried topside rolling around in the shallow water in the hatch well. When D.T. looked up McCoy was closing the distance to the sub with long powerful strokes. D.T. urged them on silently while the inferno of the Safe Boat bore down on them all.
Noah was conscious but dazed. He had been kept afloat; his head elevated and out of the water by a flotation device D.T, required all of his crewmen to wear. It was a tiny harness with a small inflatable collar and chest piece. If a person hit the water without first disengaging the safety, the vest would automatically inflate. If they were unconscious, the vest would right them until help arrived or the person came to. McCoy pushed Noah up onto the curved superstructure of the Hot Runner and D.T. pulled him aboard.
Noah was breathing regularly and while McCoy surveyed him for bleeding and broken bones D.T. went below, re-energized the thrusters and backed the sub away from the flaming hulk of the Safe Boat. He radioed Hawaii County Fire and Rescue with their position and status. When they were a hundred yards farther offshore he jettisoned the trim weight so that the sub would ride higher in the water, set the auto pilot to hold a heading that kept their stern into the swells and then went back topside to see how McCoy was doing.
As D.T. stuck his head out of the hatch he was greeted by Noah’s voice. The plucky Hawaiian was on his back looking up at the cloudless sky.
“We’re gonna' need a new Safe Boat,” Noah said with a grin. D.T. chuckled and shook his head.
“Well, your sense of humor’s still intact.” D.T. said. “Are you okay?”
“Shot at and missed....” he replied.
“...Shit at and hit.” D.T. finished. And that’s exactly what it looked like.
”What the hell happened up here?” asked McCoy, giving voice to D.T.’s thoughts.
“All I know is I was talking to you one second and looking at Mike in the next,” said Noah. “The Safe Boat guys aren’t going to believe this happened to their baby.”
“They’ll be happy to sell us another one,” D.T. said. “Noah, are you sure you can’t remember anything else?”
“I wish I could, D.T.,” said Noah, “All I know is I was on the UWT and there was a loud crack and then the whole port side of the boat exploded. I must have been kicked overboard by the shock wave.”
“And it’s a good thing you were,” said Detective McCoy, nodding toward the flaming pyre that a few moments ago had been their surface craft.
At that moment one of the fuel tanks exploded and they all ducked involuntarily as the fire on board the Safe Boat redoubled in intensity. The pillar of smoke generated by the conflagration was growing thicker as the foam of the floatation collar began to burn in earnest.
“Well,” D.T. asked, “You think the chopper will be able to find us?” McCoy smiled ruefully and shook his head in amazement.
D.T. stowed the fire extinguisher back in the Hot Runner and did what he could to prepare for the work that they would have to do in order to get the Safe Boat back to Keahou. It was possible the burnt out hull would contain evidence and he wanted to be able to examine it closely. D.T. didn’t want to discuss it with McCoy in front of Noah, but he was pretty sure they had just run afoul of one of Sid Hart’s fire bombs.