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THERE WAS NO WORSE FEELING FOR GEARY THAN TO THINK that someone she loved was in danger and to not be able to get to them. Geary was hysterical as she forgot about her quest and swam as quickly as possible through the dark water.
She ignored Kat's call. The only thing that mattered was getting topside to see what was going on.
Suddenly Arik was there, pulling Geary back. "You've got to calm down. You're breathing too rapidly."
She shook her head at him. "That sounded like an explosion. I have to get up there."
"All we heard was a pop." His tone was level and calm as those blue eyes haunted her. "It could have been anything. All we know is the intercom is malfunctioning. You don't want to die over that, do you?"
He was right and she hated him for it. Nodding, she pressed her hand against her helmet to listen more carefully. "Tory? Are you there? What's happening?"
There was still no answer.
"Tory? Christof? Justina? Thia? Dammit. Someone answer me… please."
Arik held his breath, wishing he could ease her mind. But as the silence stretched on he knew what she did. Something had to have—
His thoughts stopped as a piece of twisted metal shot past him on the right. It was followed by more pieces that rained down around them through the water.
And it was obvious what the metal was.
"Uh, folks," Scott said, his voice shaking. "I think that's our boat trying to kill us."
Yeah. Arik had a bad feeling the kid might be right. Shit.
Arik looked at Kat and could tell she had no more information than he did.
He closed his eyes and summoned his brother with his mind. "Solin ..."
There was no answer from that end, either, which boded even more ominously than their exploded boat.
Arik let go of Megeara "All right, let's head up. Safely."
"Okay." But he could hear the panic and fear in Megeara's voice.
He hesitated as Megeara and Scott went first so that he could swim beside Kat. "Any clue?"
She shook her head glumly. "You know if the boat's gone, so's our air supply."
He'd thought of that himself. So far their air was holding. Which was another reason they needed to get up immediately. They didn't have much reserve, and since he was human, he could die here, which was the last thing he wanted. Kat was the only one of them who didn't have that fear. Lucky bitch.
As they swam for the first decompression station, Arik tried his best to reach Solin repeatedly while Megeara continued to call through her intercom for the others.
And repeatedly there was nothing from above, except for a few pieces of metal that continued to float by as they headed for the floor of the sea. Yeah, nothing like watching your life pass you by, knowing you were even more sunk than it was if you didn't get to air soon.
They reached the first tank, which held two breathing hoses. The women went first, then he and Scott. They traded the lines back and forth as they waited for their bodies to adjust to the new depth before they swam any higher.
But each of them was rattled by what could have happened to the boat and the others.
He hesitated as, he finally heard Solin's voice in his head. "What's going on?"
"The boat was blown up."
"No shit. We rather got that, as parts of it almost crushed us in the water. What happened and why didn't you stop it?"
"Yeah, right. Stop it, my ass. I'm not messing with this one."
Arik cursed at Solin's selfishness. "Dammit, Solin. There's not enough air in the line for us. We might not make it back."
"Is that supposed to mean something to me? You're all going to die anyway, right? What's the point? I still have to live here after you're all gone."
If Arik could lay hands on Solin, he'd kill him.
"This isn't a game, Solin."
"No, it isn't. And you're on your own. Good luck."
Arik ground his teeth as he took the hose from Megeara so that he could take a turn breathing. "You better pray I don't make it up there to you."
"Praying's for amateurs and you got much bigger problems than me."
Arik felt Solin drifting away from his thoughts. Megeara took the hose and breathed deeply before she swam upward again. Arik and the others followed her.
They were halfway to the second station when more debris started falling through the water. What the hell? Had another boat blown up?
Arik swam up to Megeara as she started moving even faster.
"Megeara. Stop. We have to breathe slowly. You know that. Stay calm and focused."
Geary wanted to shove him away from her, but she knew he was right. She couldn't afford to fight him in the water. Right now, they had reserve air at the stations. They could stay there until their bodies readjusted. Then they could hold their breath and move to the next. But this was taking too long for her tastes.
She had to know what was going one. What had happened to the others.
Her heart heavy, she looked at Scott, who had tears in his eyes. "We'll be okay, Scott."
The doubt he held burned through her. "Yeah, right."
"No more talking," Kat snapped at them. "We have to preserve what air we got."
Arik took Geary's hand and squeezed it before he urged her up through the water. Geary obeyed, but as she swam a thousand thoughts went through her mind. Her brother had died over a malfunction in his tank.
She'd always wondered what had gone through Jason's mind in those last few minutes as he realized his life was about to end. She had to say it sucked. Memories and unfulfilled dreams poured through her with a burning intensity.
She didn't want to die. She was young and though she hadn't dated much, she still held on to the dream that one day she'd meet a great guy and have kids. That she would grow old with someone who treasured her as much as she treasured him. Was that too much to ask?
There was so much she wanted to do. And now she might never even see daylight again. It wasn't fair—to come so close to her goal and die before she could finish her quest.
But the worst thought was that Tory and Thia might be dead. Justina, Teddy, Christof, and all the others…
And it would be her fault. All her fault. God, how had her father lived with the guilt? No wonder he'd become an alcoholic. In that moment, she had an understanding of him that she'd never had before. She'd spent so much time blaming him that she hadn't even considered the blame he'd reserved for himself. The gnawing pain of knowing he'd endangered his family and the memory of them dying because of his actions.
I am so sorry. Dad.
If she got out of this and if the others were okay, it was over. She would never jeopardize other people again. This was just a stupid dream that wasn't worth another drop of blood. Another life. Atlantis didn't want to be found.
She was through.
Suddenly Geary realized that the water was getting lighter. Looking up, she could see the sunlight refracting in the waves over her head.
Not much farther… Her joy was tempered by the fear of what she would find there waiting for her. Of what'd happened to the rest of their crew. Horrific images haunted her. Thoughts of Tory and Thia lying facedown in the water. Or disfigured… of them calling out to her for help…
Please, please, please be okay.
Her throat was getting tighter as she neared the top. The pain of having no air in her lungs was oppressive and painful. Her lungs burned like fire as even more panic tore through her. How tragic to die this close to their destination. Just a few feet more and she'd reach the surface.
She began unfastening her helmet as she kicked up. Her limbs felt so heavy. Her heart was pounding from the strain. She wanted to take a breath so badly but knew that she couldn't.
By the time she reached the top, she had the helmet off. Geary tossed it aside as she finally gulped air. She was shaking and cold as water rushed into her suit. But it was so good to be breathing freely again that she didn't even care.
She turned a circle in the water trying to get her bearings. The first thing she saw was the smoldering remains of their boat—not that there was much of it left.
Hysterical, she started swimming for it, only to have someone pull at her. She turned to find Arik there.
"They're dead," she sobbed, pulling away from him. "I have to go find them."
"They're not dead."
Anger tore through her and as she opened her mouth to tell him not to patronize her. He pointed in the opposite direction of the boat.
She looked to find the small life raft that held Tory, Justina, Solin, Althea, Thia, Christof and Brian. Relief tore through her with such ferocity that she sank back under the waves.
Arik caught her against him and helped her back to the surface. She was laughing and crying as she wrapped herself around him and kissed him. He'd never seen anything like this. It was like her emotions were completely beyond her control. She smiled at him before she left and headed for the others.
Baffled, he treaded water while Kat and Scott popped up beside him.
"Thank the gods," Kat sat after she'd tossed her helmet aside.
"What the hell happened to the boat?" Scott asked.
Kat gave him a "duh" stare. "It appears to have blown up."
"Yeah, but why?"
She gave Arik a harsh stare. "That's an interesting question, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is."
Scott immediately swam after Megeara while Kat and Arik hung back.
"Do you think Zebulon had a hand in this?" he asked her.
Kat shook her head. "Not his style. He'd have simply crushed all of us and left nothing behind. No, this was a thoughtless act."
"I don't know, but I will find out."
Arik frowned. There was an odd note in her voice and he had a sneaking suspicion that she knew exactly who was behind this and didn't want to betray them, him or her.
Arik would have blamed this on the Dolophoni, but it wasn't their style, either. Their fight was with him, which meant they'd have come to fight him in the water and not bothered threatening the ones on the surface. Not to mention, the Dolophoni wouldn't have been this sloppy. No, had they been here, he would have known it. For that matter, he'd be bleeding from it.
So then who?
Damn, enemies were falling out of the trees. Lucky them.
LAUGHING HYSTERICALLY, GEARY PULLED HERSELF ONTO the raft and grabbed both Tory and Thia in a giant hug.
"Hey! You're getting me wet!" Thia snapped, shoving at her.
Geary ignored Thia as she held her close. "Thank God you guys are all right."
Tory kissed her cheek. "And so's Kichka." She held up the material in her lap to show a very upset cat, who was hissing at them. "I scooped her up on the way out."
Geary kissed the top of her cat's furry head before she took Kichka from Tory and looked around at the others. Everyone was there and accounted for. "What happened?"
Tory indicated Solin with her thumb. "Solin said he smelled a gas leak. If not for him, we'd all be dead now."
Geary scowled at the explanation. "Gas leak? How? Christof and I are always meticulous about inspecting everything."
Tory shrugged. "I don't know."
They both looked at Solin, who seemed strangely imperious even though his hair was tousled and there were black stains on his immaculate suit. "I merely smelled it and had a bad feeling that something was about to, pardon the pun, blow."
"Uh-huh," Geary said, stroking her cat. "You have these psychic moments often?"
One corner of his mouth lifted into a mocking grin. "You have no idea."
There was such a strange note in his voice that it actually sent a chill down her spine.
Teddy passed a small flask toward her. "For you, Skipper. We're glad all of you made it back in one piece."
Geary thanked him as Arik, Kat, and Scott joined them on the raft. She didn't miss the hostile look Arik passed to Solin before he came to sit beside her.
"You better?" he asked.
"Good." Arik reached to pet Kichka on the head. Kichka hissed and spat at him before she reached out with one paw to pop his hand.
Arik jerked his hand away from her claws.
Geary was stunned. In all the time she'd had her cat, Kichka had never behaved in such a manner.
Arik scowled before he moved out of the cat's reach.
"Kichka," Tory admonished. "What's gotten into you, girl?"
It was Solin who answered. "She's probably just upset over what's happened. It's been a crazy, mad day."
Maybe. But there was something very strange going on here and Geary wanted to know what it was.
Geary turned her head to look at the remnants of the boat as help came. It'd been a close call. Too close. Today they had all been lucky.
She didn't want to think about that. God, what if Solin hadn't smelled the leak? What if the others hadn't listened to him? Instead of boat chunks flying by, it would have been her friends and family.
The thought sobered her.
"We have backups of all the data," Tory said, taking Kichka from Geary's hands. "We can redo everything."
"No," Geary said, her tone firm. "We're through with this."
Everyone on the raft with the exception of Solin and Kat gaped at her.
"What are you talking about?"
"How can we quit?"
"Are you insane?"
"We just got the permits! How can you even say that?"
The questions were fired at her in rapid succession. Geary held her hands up to quell their fury. "Look, guys, I'm not my father. I can't live knowing that I caused someone else to die. Least of all the people who are sitting here on this raft. We don't need this. I've been to one too many funerals in my life and I'm tired of it."
Tory glared at her.
"Yea!" Thia said happily, "Does this mean I get to shop more?"
"Shut up, Thia," Scott snapped. "Geary, think about what you're saying."
Tory held Kichka up to her chin. "Geary's had a bad shock today. Give her time to calm down and she'll change her mind. You'll see."
Geary started to correct her but didn't want to argue the point. Her mind was made up and there was no way she'd ever take another group this far out. Today had taught her a valuable lesson and she was going to heed it before it was too late.
Her resolve set, she stayed on the raft while the others boarded the small rescue boat.
Arik hung back with her. "Are you sure about this?"
She expected him to ride her, but instead he asked a simple, flat-toned question. "Then what are you going to do with the rest of your life?"
She laughed. "I don't know. It's been years since I've thought past this interminable quest. What would you do?"
A devilish light glowed in his eyes. "Well, I personally would go back to shore. Shower and change into something nice, then go out to dinner with this guy who wants to spend a little time with me. Then I'd take him back to my place and rock his world."
His words warmed her and she couldn't resist teasing him. "Daydream about a lot of guys, do you?"
He laughed. "No, that's just what I'd do if I were you."
Smiling, she shook her head. "You're relentless."
He gave a weary sigh. "I'm never going to wear you down, am I?"
Geary had to admit he was gorgeous sitting there with his wet hair plastered around his sharp features, bruised though they were. And those eyes… they were the stuff of legends. What could one dinner with him really hurt? After all, he'd kept her calm today and watched after her. If not for him, she might very well have panicked and died today.
"All right. I'll take you up on it."
He actually gaped at her. Then his smile turned wicked. "Shall we get naked now? I definitely want to see you rock my world."
"The dinner, you loon. And only the dinner."
Arik pouted playfully. "Fine. If that's your best offer…"
He stood up and helped her to her feet, then he assisted her in climbing up after Teddy. Geary tried not to notice the strength of Arik as he easily swung her up on board the rescue boat, then climbed up behind her. He was nimble and fast.
And he made her body melt.
Images of her dreams haunted her.
She turned away from Arik as one of the officers came up to her. "Yes?"
"I need to ask you a few questions about your boat."
Nodding, she expected Arik to join the others. Instead, he stayed by her side, lending her his unspoken support while she was interrogated.
Kat moved to the back of the boat and remained silent as they headed for the docks. Solin joined her by the side with an intense look of displeasure etched into his features.
For a man who was completely amoral his actions today surprised her. "Why did you save them from the explosion?"
He shrugged nonchalantly. "It was a momentary lapse in judgment I assure you."
She wasn't buying that argument. "There's more human in you than you want, isn't there?"
"I have no idea what you mean. Whatever humanity ever existed has long since died."
Uh-huh. "Did you happen to see who was behind this?"
"I didn't see anything, but I felt…"
"A presence near and dear to your heart. It appears Artemis also has an interest in ending this expedition. Perhaps you should take this matter up with her."
Kat was frozen into place as he drifted away. It was as she thought. Her anger boiling, she stopped a passing sailor. "Where's the restroom?"
He gave her directions to it. Thanking him, she immediately headed for it and locked herself in. Then she closed her eyes and flashed herself to Olympus to speak with said goddess.
A warm breeze whispered against her skin as she opened the golden door to Artemis's temple. Dressed in a flowing white gown that set her pale features and vibrant red hair off to perfection, the goddess was lounging about on her throne while Satara, another of her handmaidens, played the harp for her entertainment.
Kat came to a stop before her goddess and crossed her arms over her chest. She looked to the other koris before she barked a single order, "Leave us."
Artemis sighed wearily. "You don't make that whisper, Katra."
"It's call, matisera. The phase is 'you don't make take call B, today I do."
The other koris lifted stunned eyebrows as they waited for Artemis to blast Kat. But she knew she was safe from death. Punishment she could handle.
Artemis pushed herself up. "Fine. Koris, leave."
They were immediately flashed from the room. Artemis narrowed her eyes as she rose from her throne to stand beside Kat, who was a good two inches taller than the goddess she served. "What is your breakage?"
"Damage, matisera. The phrase is 'what is my damage.' And I want to know why you blew up the boat."
Artemis rolled her eyes and made a disgusted sound in the back of her throat as if she couldn't believe Kat would ask such a trivial question. "Because I felt like it."
"You felt like it? Good grief, matisera, have you any idea how disconcerting it is to be underwater when the boat that's supplying you your air comes floating down past you?"
She scoffed. "Why are you so angry? It's not like you can die. Get a grab."
"Whatever." Artemis turned on her with green eyes blazing. "I don't care what it takes or who has to die. Preserve that seal, Katra. I heard Apollymi calling to you and to that other bitch. I know she was guiding her toward the seal. Box my elbow. Apollymi knew what she was doing. She won't rest until she's free and I'm dead."
"You can relax. I'm not going to allow Apollymi to be free."
"No? Then act like it. Remember at the end of the day which of us has protected you. Shielded you. Nurtured you. You're nothing but a tool to Apollymi."
"And what am I to you, matisera? Am I not your tool?"
Artemis's face flushed with color caused by her anger. "You know what you are to me. Now go and do as you're told. Keep that human from Atlantis."
Kat ground her teeth at the order. "When will you learn to trust me?"
"Trust you?" Artemis asked in an aghast tone. "You went behind my back to Kalosis and then bound yourself to my most mortal enemy. Why should I ever trust you again?"
That ignited Kat's own temper. Why did Artemis always bring up something that had happened thousands, and it was thousands, of years ago? "You know why I had to see Apollymi."
It didn't placate Artemis in the least. "After all I have done for you, sacrificed for you, you slapped me in my face. If it were anyone other than you, I'd have killed you for what you've done."
"Then kill me."
Artemis hissed at her, "Don't tempt me, Katra. Ever."
"And don't push me, matisera. I know the source of your powers and you know the depth of mine. If we ever go to war, who do you think would win?"
Artemis curled her lip. "You are your father's child. Impudent. Surly. Argumentative and spiteful."
Kat laughed at that. "Strange, I would have sworn it was my mother you're describing."
Artemis's hair flew around her as her face mottled with rage. Her incisors grew to fangs as she spat at Kat. The air around Artemis sizzled with power an instant before she raised her hands and shot a bolt at Kat.
But it didn't hit her.
Before it came near, Kat flashed herself back to the boat.
"Heed me, Katra," Artemis growled in Kat's mind. "I am not one to be trifled with."
Katra rolled her eyes at the angry voice. "My loyalty to you is above reproach, matisera. One day, I hope you will know that."
"I will know it only when you help me kill Apollymi. Until that day, I will always have my doubts."
"I can never hurt her."
"Then I can never fully trust you. So long as your loyalty is split between us, you are as great a threat to me as she is."
"Do you honestly believe that?"
"Believe it? I know it. And that is why your boat is lying on the seafloor. Next time you go near that seal, I will make sure that you pay for it with flesh and bone. And the humans will pay with their lives."
That was a beautiful thought. "Love you, too, matisera. Thanks."
She jerked as she heard Tory's voice. "Um, yeah?"
"Are you okay in there? I heard you talking to someone."
Kat flushed the toilet before she opened the door. "Just thinking out loud."
By Tory's face Kat could tell the girl didn't believe her. "You were speaking in ancient Greek."
"Just practicing. You never know when it could come in handy."
"True. We might one day clone Aristophanes and need an interpreter."
"Yeah." Kat stepped past her and headed back to the topside. As she ascended the ladder, a whisper went through her.
"I will be free, Katra. Neither you nor Artemis can keep me bound here forever."
Kat could actually feel Apollymi's breath on her neck. Feel the touch of her hand. "We both know why you can't leave Kalosis."
"And we both know why I must…"
Kat had no sooner stepped on the upper deck than she met Solin, who gave her an amused stare.
"I really hate voices in my head, don't you, Kat?"
She forced her features to remain blank. "I have no idea what you mean."
"Of course not."
As he moved away, she stopped him. "For the record, I'm not on their side."
He arched a brow at her. "Whose side?"
"Anyone's. My loyalty is to myself."
"Why are you telling me this?"
She smiled. "Because we are similar creatures. I have my own agenda here and I know you do, too."
"And what is your agenda?"
"To survive this expedition."
He laughed in the back of his throat. "That's something easier said than done, isn't it?"
"It's beginning to appear that way." Kat looked over to where Arik sat with Geary. They were leaning toward each other, and even though they weren't touching, there was no missing the electricity between them. How Kat wished to feel that way toward a man, but she wasn't that type of creature. Every woman she'd ever known had been ruined by a man.
She would never be so stupid.
"What about you, Solin? What do you want out of this?"
He gave her a harsh stare. "Mine is simple. I only want revenge."
Before she could ask him to elaborate or at the very least to narrow his choice down from the few billion people on earth and in other realms, he drifted out of her reach. "Nice talking to you, too," she said under her breath. She was getting really tired of gods drifting away from her.
But that was no matter.
She was stressed enough walking the tightrope between Apollymi and Artemis.
Geary laughed at something Arik said. He was smiling as he looked up and caught Kat's gaze. She cocked her head at the way the two of them were acting as she felt the attraction between them. She understood the physical, but what surprised her was what she felt from Arik.
He thought he lusted for Geary, which he did. But there was more to his feelings than that. As a Skotos, he was used to taking his emotions from others. What he didn't realize was that his newfound emotions came from his feelings for Geary. They weren't Geary's feelings. They were his own. The giddiness and joy he experienced right now wouldn't be there if Geary were somewhere else.
And in that moment, Kat understood why Solin was helping him. Solin wanted Arik to know these feelings so that when they were gone and Geary was no longer here Arik would mourn her. It was cruel beyond belief.
Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
Arik had wanted emotions and now he would experience the full array of them. May the gods have mercy on him.
Sympathetic pain sliced through her, but it was mitigated by the fact that none of this was her business. Arik had chosen this path.
And he would be doomed by it.
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