Aboard a long-range research vessel, in the vast reaches of the South Pacific, the cast and crew of the reality show Sealife believe they have found a ratings bonanza. For a director dying for drama, a distress call from Henders Island—a mere blip on any radar—might be just the ticket. Until the first scientist sets foot on Henders—and the ultimate test of survival begins.
For when they reach the island’s shores, the scientists are utterly unprepared for what they find—creatures unlike any ever recorded in natural history. This is not a lost world frozen in time; this is Earth as it might have looked after evolving on a separate path for half a billion years—a fragment of a lost continent, with an ecosystem that could topple ours like a house of cards.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Warren Fahy has been a bookseller, a statistical analyst, and managing editor of a video database, where he wrote hundreds of movie reviews for a nationally syndicated column. He is currently the lead writer for Wowwee, generating creative content for their line of advanced robotic toys. He lives in San Diego, California. Delacorte will publish his next novel in 2010.
From the Hardcover edition.
"Captain, Mister Grafton is attempting to put a man ashore, sir."
"Which man, Mister Eaton?"
Three hundred yards off the island's sheer wall, H.M.S. Retribution rolled on a ten foot swell setting away from the shore. The corvette was hove to, her gray sails billowing in opposite directions to hold her position on the sea as the sailing master kept an eye on a growing bank of cloud to the north.
Watching from the decks in silence, some of the men were praying as a boat approached the cliff. Lit pale orange by the setting sun, the palisade was bisected by a blue shadowed crevasse that streaked seven hundred feet up its face.
The Retribution was a captured French ship previously called the Atrios. For the past ten months, her crew had been relentlessly hunting H.M.S. Bounty. While the British admiralty did not object to stealing ships from other navies, they had a long memory for any ship that had been stolen from theirs. It had been five years since the mutineers had absconded with the Bounty, and still the hunt continued.
Lieutenant Eaton steadied the captain's telescope and twisted the brass drawtube to focus the image: nine men were positioning the rowboat under the crack in the cliff. Eaton noticed that the seaman reaching up toward the fissure wore a scarlet cap. "It looks like Frears, Captain," he reported.
The dark crack started about fifteen feet above the bottom of the swell and zigzagged hundreds of feet across the face of jagged rock like a bolt of lightning. The British sailors had nearly circled the two-mile-wide island before finding this one chink in its armor.
Though the captain insisted that they thoroughly investigate all islands for signs of the Bounty's crew, a more pressing matter concerned the men of the Retribution now. After five weeks with no rain, they were praying for freshwater, not signs of mutineers. As they pretended to attend their duties, 317 men stole furtive, hopeful looks at the landing party.
The boat rose and fell in the spray as the nine men staved off the cliff with oars. At the top of one swell the man wearing the red cap grabbed the bottom edge of the fissure: he dangled there as the boat receded.
"He's got a purchase, Captain!"
A tentative cheer went up from the crew.
Eaton saw the men in the boat hurling small barrels up to Frears. "Sir, the men are throwing him some barrecoes to fill!"
"Providence has smiled on us, Captain," said Mister Dunn, the ruddy chaplain, who had taken passage aboard Retribution on his way to Australia. "We were surely meant to find this island! Else, why would the Lord have put it here, so far away from everything?"
"Aye, Mister Dunn. Keep a close counsel with the Lord," replied the captain as he slitted his eyes and watched the boat. "How's our man, Mister Eaton?"
"He's gone in." After an agonizing length of time, Eaton saw the scarlet capped man finally emerge from the shadow. "Frears's signaling . . . He's found freshwater, Captain! He's throwing down the barrecoe!"
Eaton looked at the captain wearily, then smiled as a cheer broke over the decks.
The captain cracked a smile. "Ready four landing boats for provisioning, Mister Eaton. Let's rig a ladder and fill our barrels."
"It's Providence, Captain," cried the chaplain over the answering cheer of the men. " 'Tis the good Lord who led us here!"
Eaton put the spyglass to his eye and saw Frears toss another small barrel from the fissure into the sea. The men in the longboat hauled it alongside.
"He's thrown down another!" Eaton shouted.
The men cheered again. They were now moving about and laughing as barrels were hauled up from the hold.
"The Lord keeps us." The chaplain nodded on the ample cushion of fat under his chin.
The captain smiled in the chaplain's direction, knowing that he'd had the shock of his life these past months observing life aboard a working ship in the King's navy.
With a face as freckled as the Milky Way, Captain Ambrose Spencer Henders resembled a redheaded Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar, to his crew. "An island this size without breakers, birds, or seals," he grumbled. He stared at the faint colors swirled in the island's cliff. Some bands of color seemed to glitter as if with gold in the last light of the setting sun. After sounding all around the island they had found no place to anchor, and that fact alone baffled him. "What do you make of this island, Mister Eaton?"
"Aye, it's strange," Eaton said, lowering the glass—but a glimpse of Frears falling to his knees at the edge of the crevasse made him raise it hastily to his eye. Through the spyglass he found Frears kneeling in the crack and saw him drop what appeared to be the copper funnel he was using to fill the small kegs. The funnel skittered down the rock face into the water.
A red flash appeared at the sailor's back. Red jaws seemed to lunge from the twilight and close over Frears's chest and head from each side, jerking him backwards.
Faint shouts drifted over the waves, echoing off the cliff.
"Eh, what is it?"
"I'm not sure, sir!"
Eaton tried to steady the scope as the deck rolled. Between waves he saw another man in the longboat catch hold of the lip of the fissure and scramble up into the shadow of the crack.
"They've sent another man up!"
Another swell blocked his view. A moment later, another rolled under the ship. As the deck rose, Eaton barely caught the image of the second man leaping out of the crevasse into the sea.
"He's jumped out, sir, next to the boat!"
"What in blazes is going on, Mister Eaton?" Captain Henders lifted a midshipman's scope to his eye.
"The men are hauling him into the boat. They're coming back, sir, with some haste!" Eaton lowered the glass, still staring at the fissure, now doubting what he had seen.
"Is Frears safe, then?"
"I don't believe so, Captain," Eaton replied.
"What's the matter?"
The lieutenant shook his head.
Captain Henders watched the men in the boat row in great lunges back to the ship. The man who had jumped into the water was propped up against the transom, seemingly stricken by some fit as his mates struggled to subdue him. "Tell me what you saw, Mister Eaton," he ordered.
"I don't know, sir."
The captain lowered the scope and gave his first officer a hard look.
The men in the boat shouted as they drew near the Retribution.
The captain turned to the chaplain. "What say you, Mister Dunn?"
From the crack in the cliff face came a rising and falling howl like a wolf or a whale, and Mister Dunn's ruddy jowls paled as the ungodly voice devolved into what sounded like the gooing and spluttering of some giant baby. Then it shrieked a riot of piercing notes like a broken calliope.
The men stared at the cliff in stunned silence.
Mister Grafton shouted from the approaching boat: "Captain Henders!"
"What is it, man?"
"The Devil Hisself!"
The captain looked at his first officer, who was not a man given to superstition.
Eaton nodded grimly. "Aye, Captain."
The voice from the crack splintered as more unearthly voices joined it in a chorus of insanity.
"We should leave this place, Captain," urged Mister Dunn. " 'Tis clear no one was meant to find it—else, why would the Lord have put it here, so far away from everything?"
Captain Henders stared distractedly at his chaplain, then said, "Mister Graves, hoist the boat and make sail, due east!" Then he turned to all his officers. "Chart the island. But make no mention of water or what we have found here today. God forbid we give a soul any reason to seek this place."
The hideous gibberish shrieking from the crack in the island continued.
"Aye, Captain!" his officers answered, ashen-faced.
As the men scrambled from the boat, the captain asked, "Mister Grafton, what has become of Mister Frears?"
"He's been et by monsters, sor!"
Captain Henders paled under his freckles. "Master gunner, place a full broadside on that crevice, double shot, round and grape, if you please! As you're ready, sir!"
The master gunner acknowledged him from the waist of the ship. "Aye, sir!"
Retribution fired a parting shot into the crevasse on lances of fire and smoke as she came about, blasting the cliffs like a castle's ramparts.
Captain Ambrose Spencer Henders dipped a kite feather quill into the porcelain inkwell on his desk and stared down at the blank page of his logbook. The oil lamp swung like a pendulum, moving the shadow of the quill across the paper as he paused, weighing what to write.
The Trident cut the deep water with her single-hulled bow and turned three wakes with her trimaran stern. She resembled a sleek spacecraft leaving three white rocket trails across a blue universe. The storm clouds that had driven her south for three weeks had vanished overnight. The sea reflected a spotless dome of scorching blue sky.
The 182-foot exploration vessel was approaching the center of 36 million square miles of empty ocean that stretched from the equator to Antarctica—a void that globes and maps usually took advantage of to stack the words "South Pacific Ocean."
Chartered for the cable reality show SeaLife, the Trident comfortably quartered forty passengers. Now an "on camera" crew of ten who pretended to run the ship, fourteen professionals who really ra...
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