A trawler is torn to pieces by an enormous sea monster off the Irish coast. Meanwhile Connor's anomaly detector is going off the charts: half a dozen rifts in time have appeared, all on one deserted - yet politically contentious - island. Cutter and the team find themselves stranded on a storm-ridden island fighting to survive amidst the terrifying creatures roaming the harsh landscape...
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Paul Kearney is a popular writer of fantasy fiction, including the highly successful series The Monarchies of God (Gollancz) and The Sea Beggars (Bantam). Has also written several standalone novels. Paul lives by the sea in County Down, Northern Ireland with his wife, two dogs, a beat-up boat, and far too many books.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
With a cough and a mutter, the engine died. They were 300 nautical miles out into the North Atlantic.
‘Damn it, Michael; see to that. Did you clean the plugs?’
‘I cleaned the plugs, Da,’ Michael replied, shouting to be heard over the din of the storm. ‘It’s the bloody engine.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with that engine, boy.’
‘Aye, apart from it being forty years old.’
‘Don’t you backchat me now. We’re wallowing. Get down there.’
They stood glaring at each other across the wheelhouse. Michael Mackey, black-haired and six-feet tall in his socks, thumped one broad fist into the binnacle console, then turned and went down the hatch behind them.
His father, James, puffed on his roll-up until the tip glowed yellow in the murky dimness of the dusk. One hand light on the ship’s wheel, he leaned forward and stared through the salt-streaked glass of the wheelhouse windows. Under him, the big, broad-beamed trawler rose and fell like a toy duck in a bathtub. The Cormorant was sixty-feet long, wooden-built. It had been his father’s boat, and one day it would be Michael’s, unless the Atlantic had its say first.
James rubbed his hand over a grey-stubbled chin, and then thumbed the intercom.
‘Kieran, are you awake?’
After a moment the intercom crackled back at him.
‘Aye – who wouldn’t be? We’re being thrown about like a baby’s rattle down here.’
‘Get down to the engine, give Michael a hand. It’s quit on us again.’
‘Get on with it. And get the rest up. Survival suits, the whole heap. Best be careful.’
‘Right-ho. She’s picked a hell of a night to give up on us.’
James lifted his thumb.
‘She’s not given up on us yet,’ he snarled aloud.
The roar of the gale was deafening, the merciless thunder of the waves. The Cormorant was running for home with the wind on her starboard quarter – just behind James’s left ear. All around her the sea was a vast rolling landscape of broken hills fringed with white foam. That was a twenty-five foot swell out there, the wave-tops higher than the boat’s antenna.
The trawler fought her way up the steep sliding back of each wave, the bow plunging as she came over the crest. The wind struck her stern at the top, so she slewed round a little, and James fought stubbornly, swearing and praying together as he wrenched at the wheel and the boat came sliding and plunging down the far side of the wave. The wind cut off, and the course was running true again. If the wind were to push her broadside-on at the crest of any wave, then the one behind it would swamp her, catch her beam-on and likely capsize her.
‘After such a catch, too,’ James said bitterly, his cigarette spitting sparks as he sucked on it. The hold was full, good sized cod and haddock, the best catch they’d taken in months. They were paying for it now, though.
Without propulsion, there was little they could do but set the trawler before the wind and hope to ride out the gale until Michael got the engines started again. The gale was hammering them off-course, south and east, towards the Bay of Biscay. It was damn near as bad as the Atlantic for storms.
Kieran Fitzsimon lurched into the wheeldeck, hauling himself up the companionway. He was grinning, his freckled face white under a shock of ginger hair.
‘It’s fifty knots out there, or I’m a Dutchman,’ he shouted. ‘You ever been out in one like this before, skipper?’
James smiled unwillingly. Kieran’s simple-headed enthusiasm was impossible to resist. ‘Too many. I’m too old now to see the funny side of it.’
‘Ah, sure, where’s your sense of adventure? You were right so you were, about the cod run. We hit them right where you thought. When we get home we’ll be rich.’
‘Rich,’ James said dubiously. He grunted, tugging on the wheel, resisting the battery of sea and wave as the trawler rose up another crest to be slammed by the full force of the storm. The boat tilted to port thirty degrees. An empty coffee-mug flew off the console and shattered on the deck.
Kieran, bright red hair in a bright orange survival suit, went tumbling into the bulkhead, landing with a dull thud, and clung there looking even more dazed than usual. James stood like a planted stone, teeth bared, his cigarette champed in two. Profanities hissed through his teeth as he fought with the wheel.
The ship slewed round, then back again, like a car skidding on an oily road, only thirty tons heavier. Then they were in the calm of the leeward side, with the bow pointed down into a dark abyss of raging water, the trough of the wave.
James stared into it with the sweat beading his face, and for a second he could have sworn that he saw a light there, deep in the dark heart of the water. Just a momentary glitter.
He wiped his eyes, breathing heavily.
‘Kieran, you all right?’
‘Fine skipper.’ He was rubbing the side of his face ruefully.
‘Get down below and see how Michael’s getting on. Tell him we need power soon, or we’re –’ He paused. ‘Just tell him.’
‘I will.’ Shaking his head like a boxer who’d received a shrewd blow, Kieran navigated the companionway aft.
James Mackey spat out the mangled remains of his roll-up. He longed to light another, but there was no letting go of the wheel now, not for a second. He swore under his breath, cursing his bitch of a ship, yet praising her, and cajoling her as though she were a woman he was trying to seduce.
Outside, the North Atlantic widow-maker raged on. He glanced to the side, at the bright, flickering screen of the weather-map. There was a great, whirling white funnel west of Ireland; he was standing in the middle of it, like a bug caught in the gyrations of a washing-machine.
‘We’re too far out,’ he whispered. The Cormorant wasn’t made for these seas. She’d been built for the coastal fishing grounds to the west of Bantry Bay. James had deliberately set out to try the further grounds. The East Thulean Rise was an undersea shelf which rose up some four hundred miles west of Cork. The cod had been there, in the slightly shallower waters of the shelf where there was an abundance of food for them. The Cormorant had filled her hold in a matter of hours, and had been motoring back at full speed when the storm hit. The system had been too big to skirt around, so James had plunged his boat and her crew into the middle of it, trusting to his skill, to luck, and the well-made timbers of his father’s vessel.
There was a thumping growl from below aft as the diesels began to churn for a minute, sounding like bad-tempered beasts. Then they stopped again, followed by a distant curse and the clang of metal thumping on metal. Michael was a wizard with anything mechanical, but he had his mother’s temper.
Never again, James thought to himself as the cold sweat slimed his spine. Never again. It’s inshore work for me from now on. I’m too old for this.
As the boat shuddered under his feet, bucking up and then crashing down again, James thought for an instant he had seen something in the arc of the bridge-lights, something which wasn’t water or the explosive spray of the great waves. It seemed to roll over in the sea to his front, a momentary glistening glimpse of some huge shape. He clenched shut his tired eyes for a few seconds, and the light spangled red behind his eyelids.
When he opened them again there was just the black and white fury of the sea, the bow of the trawler rising and falling before him, crashing through it, the water flooding aft as though seeking to bury her.
God, I’m tired, James thought. Tiredness does things to you.
He peered at the radar, but it was a fuzzy mess: fish, currents of warm and cold water, even containers washed off the decks of cargo-ships. The sea was full of life, the depths of it as populated as any city that man had made, and it was more of a wilderness than the most remote icecap. There were vast swathes of the seabed around the world which had never been sounded or mapped, where man had never gone and would never go. James remembered his own father telling him that, at home by the peat fire while a widow-maker like this one had lashed the thatch of the house around their heads.
‘The sea will give up its riches freely,’ he had said. ‘But it always exacts payment for them in the end.’
The engines farted, muttered, and then began a full-throated snarling. There was a halloo from down below, a shout of triumph. Even up here, James could hear Kieran’s chortled laughter. He grinned, and hit the throttles.
Under him, the Cormorant came to life again. She began to power forward into the waves, no longer a bath-tub duck, but a thing with force and strength in her. The hull creaked and groaned as James tilted the spokes of the wheel to starboard, fighting to get back on course.
The waves seemed to resent this impertinence. They slammed into the trawler like angry monsters, and cannoned up the ship’s side in white explosions of spray, drenching the foredeck and streaming along the wheelhouse windows. Grimly, James fought the wheel, feeling the rudder bite astern, feeling the thrum of the overworked engines as they cranked around the propeller shaft.
A clanking on the deck, and Michael was back at his side, pale face smeared with grease, hands black with it. He stank of diesel and old seawater and his hair was dripping into his eyes.
‘The seams are opening. I’ve got the bilge pumps at full blast, but the water’s pouring in. She won’t take this course. The engine won’t either. Da, we have to ride this one out.’
‘The hell we do,’ James grunted. ‘This thing could blow us all the way to France. If we don’t fight it, we’ll be a week at sea, and the fish’ll be rotten.’
‘Better the fish than us.’
‘I know what I’m doing Mike. Leave me to it. You just keep that bloody engine running.’
A huge impact slammed the ship aside. Down below they could hear the three other crewmen cursing and shouting. Michael and his father clung to the binnacle as the Cormorant seemed to stop in her tracks for a moment, before swinging round to port. She was near the crest of a wave, and for a few moments her rudder was out of the water and the wheel circled freely whilst the engines whined at the prop shaft.
Then she came down again, hammering into the trough of the wave like a toy boat dropped by a bored child. The bow went under, green water foaming up six-feet deep to the very wheelhouse windows. The ship groaned around them, her timbers screaming, bending, the sea pummelling them. The wheel-house door burst open and in came the North Atlantic, foaming and hungry. In a second they were knee-deep.
‘She’s going!’ Michael yelled, his face a mask of white terror.
‘No she won’t,’ his father bellowed, and he stood at the wheel again. He yanked back on the throttle, gunning the engines to bursting point. ‘Close that bloody door!’
The trawler whirled round in the broken fury of the waves. Michael charged the door and managed to push it shut on the hungry water. He turned the bolt and hung on to it as the Cormorant bucked like an angry horse and his father stood fixed at the wheel, almost a part of the ship itself.
The bow rose slowly, slowly, tons of water streaming aft. They were going up the back of the next wave.
They were afloat.
They were alive.
‘What the hell was that?’ Michael rasped. ‘It felt like a collision.’ From below, the rest of the crew were shouting at one another. The intercom crackled. ‘Skipper, we’ve a hull-timber stove-in and half cracked. What in the world hit us?’
‘The sea hit us,’ James Mackey said through grinding teeth. ‘The sea and all that’s in it. Michael, rig the spare pumps, and see what can be done to plug her side. Quickly now.’
‘Maybe it was a submarine,’ Michael offered. ‘I’ve heard of things like that happening.’ He hauled himself to the radio, and clicked it on again. At once, the hiss of static filled the wheelhouse.
‘You think there’s a sub on the surface, on a night like this? I don’t know what it was, a drifting container most likely. We were lucky.’ He glanced at his son. ’For God’s sake stop twiddling with that thing. We must have damaged the aerial. I already tried, and got nothing out of it at all.’
‘The aerial’s fine; I checked not ten minutes ago. Maybe it’s the storm, the waves.’
‘You know better than that. We’re on our own Michael, no one can hear us out here, and there’s only ourselves to pull us through it. Get below now, and keep this bitch afloat for me.’
‘Da,’ Michael said. He looked very young now, washed out and frightened. ‘Da, do you think –’
‘Get below son. We’ll be all right. It’ll be dawn soon. This thing’ll blow itself out, you’ll see.’
Michael left the wheelhouse. His father stared out at the sea before him, that pathless wilderness. He flicked on every exterior light the boat possessed, but all they illuminated was a wrack of broken, foaming water, and the slate-grey backs of the immense waves as they coursed endlessly before the wind. There was nothing out there, nothing but the angry Atlantic.
And in the lurching wheelhouse of the boat, the useless crackle of the radio went on and on.
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Book Description Titan Books Ltd 2011, 2011. Book Condition: New. New paperback. May show some slight shelf wear but content fine and unread. Bookseller Inventory # A133150