Like with any computer program, there can be maddening little glitches in the formatting for Smashword’s ebooks. Spacing that was sufficient, suddenly being missing again. Hidden bookmarks. Let me say right at the outset that the formatting happens at home base, not at Smashwords! It is hand-done, on such imperfect tools as Winword. And Winword is a very glitchy program.
I’ve had the experience once with dear Winword 7, that it did a massive “find-replace” on autopilot, unsolicited, just as I was about to go to print with “The Assassin” – Solar Wind 2. I caught the error on the printed proof – thank the stars (the lucky ones) that Business Print gives a printed proof for the publisher to check through before going ahead with the run! That moment of utter gobsmack. It was like, “what??”(*) In the middle of the book for several chapters, every occurence of Shawn’s name had been replaced with “I”. (That was actually funny: “She is my sister,” said I.) Federi’s name had been replaced all over the show, randomly, with “Perdita” – and she only appears on the scene in the third book! Paean had been replaced in places with “Federi”. What a mess! It was an insane scramble, and to comb again word-for-word through a 600-page novel I had just worked to death with the help of my editor – there is only one expression that does the experience credit, and that is our South African “eishhh!”.
But I got it fixed. And I switched to LibreOffice Writer, and never had that particular problem (or various others) again.
There are some funny scenes in the book but I think, for today the freak wave is good. What do you say?
… down into the Antarctic circle…
Radomir Lascek steered straight at those huge waves. Weather. His favourite circumstance.
* […] *
Federi peered out through the galley’s western porthole. There was a dark storm out there. The ship was rocking and rolling accordingly. Those were pretty big waves. Why wasn’t Captain submerging?
Did it matter? He snorted. Did it the hell matter! The Solar Wind was charmed. Nothing would happen to her while he was aboard; all he had to do was stay aboard and not go on the mission yet! As he had done for twelve years. The Assassin had to survive for the mission. Thus said the stars. So went the legend. As long as the mission was not accomplished, therefore, even a cracked skull that would have brained any other person couldn’t kill Federi. The Assassin was back on his feet within twenty-four hours. And back on track. It stood to reason that the Solar Wind couldn’t sink: There was no way anyone could survive that freezing sea, and therefore the Solar Wind would have to stay intact to protect the Assassin.
Federi had no say in this. Even when he tried self-terminating, there was always some or other misguided do-gooder – Marsden, Paean – who talked him out of it. Because the Assassin needed to live for the mission. And he was going to take Federi with him, and run the course of his demonic life through, and take Federi to hell with him too. And Federi had no choice either way. Federi was just along for the ride.
He stared at the walls of water they were heading into and bared his teeth in a mirthless grin. Twelve years at sea wasn’t enough to prepare him for this. They smashed against the volcaniplex porthole, scaring him bloodless. It didn’t help knowing that the force behind a wave was squarely proportional to its height. Almost, he preferred it in the rigging at such times…
Captain’s summons from the bridge was more than welcome! Federi headed up the passage and ascended the steps into the control room.
“What do you make of that out there?” asked Lascek, pointing to a disturbance on the turbulences screen.
“Shoals,” said Federi. “Quite a few. Some quite shallow.”
“No, that there,” countered Jon Marsden.
“Ah,” said the Tzigan. “No idea. Enemy submarine? Unicate experiment?”
“Jokes aside, Federi,” said Radomir Lascek. “What could it be?”
“It’s so big,” replied the gypsy. “Should be able to see it!” He glanced out through the volcaniplex windshield. “Bleeding pea soup out there!”
“Should send the minicam,” suggested Marsden. Radomir Lascek punched a sequence.
“It’s not responding.”
“Hah! Probably needs new anti-freeze on that hatch!” speculated Federi, reached for a life-vest and put it on, already on his way outside. “Give me half a minute, Captain.”
Rain was pelting down in nearly solid sheets. Federi peered in the direction of that disturbance and saw nothing. He climbed into the rigging, and past the Crow’s Nest to the very top of the mast. What a stupid time for the thing to go out of action! He fished the tube of hydro-polyglossimer anti-freeze lubri-squatch out of his pocket and applied a liberal glob of it all around the rim of the tiny hatch. The mini-hold sprung open. He followed the tiny camera with its miniature helicopter blades with his gaze as it whirred out of its hold and into the storm like a mad bumblebee.
And then his eyes wandered beyond it, as the rainsquall passed and visibility was suddenly restored as if by magic. The Solar Wind lifted onto a high crest, and he swallowed and blinked. And activated his com.
“Captain, it’s a freak wave. A huge one.” He fished his binoculars out of his pocket and peered through them. “At least a mile long, I’d say, and coming at an angle to the normal waves.” With frantic haste he activated the binoculars’ distance- and size-measurement features. “’Bout two miles away, and a height of over twenty metres. With the sort of trough it must have, that would make it thirty-five to forty metres high! That means it’s something like a twenty… no, twelve-storey building coming at us!”
Lascek swore. “Federi, get below, now! We need to do a crash-dive to get under this thing!”
Federi grabbed a ratline and padded his hands with his parka before sliding down. The Solar Wind turned, presenting her stern to the threat and hardening sail to a close reach to do an angled dash across wave after wave as she overtook them, pitching and tossing wildly in the process.
Then Lascek came back on the intercom. “Belay that! We’ll try to outrun her!”
Federi stopped his descent briefly to gaze back at the wave. Freezing hells, that thing was moving fast! There was no way they could outrun it!
“Captain, I’d say it’s safer to submerge.”
“Can’t, Federi! It shoals to less than 20 fathoms under us – we can’t get deep enough to escape the underwater effects of a wave like that. We’ll be smashed to pieces. Come inside the bridge, blast you, Tzigan!”
Federi measured up the fast-approaching wall of water as the Solar Wind lifted over another crest. Shoals? And trying to get over it, to the other side, was a death-wish. For a mad moment he had a vision of the Solar Wind actually surfing the wave, like one of those madmen from the previous century.
Eww. But he’d also seen too many of those madmen take a nasty dive. Wiping out, they called it. Some had actually died that way. His hyperactive imagination wanted to show him the Solar Wind, wiping out… Captain was right, they’d have to try and outrun it. The nuclear drives had been engaged along with the fuel drives. The sails had turned and set themselves on a close reach, harnessing the wind to flow across the sails faster than the actual gale. And yet that monster was gaining on them.
He glanced at the Captain through the bridge window, and slithered down the rest of the ratline to the deck. And made his way towards the foredeck, loosening the jibsheets.
“Tzigan! What are you up to? Are you suicidal?” the Captain’s voice boomed over the com.
“Send me Jon,” said Federi and fished two speedbar sheets out of the foredeck.
“Genius,” came the growled reply, and Jon Marsden came down to the deck. Federi handed him two brakesheets – one for port and one for starboard. The jibs furled away.
“Captain’s doubling up the console,” said Jon.
“Was hoping he would,” replied Federi as the huge kite sail shot upwards and cracked open with an explosive sound.
The Solar Wind lifted onto her hydrofoils. She skimmed along the sides of some large breakers, which ran at an angle with the freak. That monster was still gaining on them, but more slowly by now. The kite dipped out to windward, to fly in its position of greatest efficiency.
Radomir Lascek watched his two heroes from the bridge. His psyche itched to be out there with them; but it was crucial that he stayed inside and worked both consoles, the temporary flying one that had been relayed electronically over his ship console upon his command; as well as the conventional console that controlled everything else, the normal sails, the drives, the helm…
She appeared behind her father, as silent as a ghost.
“You take the helm,” Radomir Lascek instructed.
“What are we doing?” she asked, complying with his order.
“Dodging a freak wave,” Lascek informed her. “There is no room for mistakes.”
“Dr Jake! Full throttle! All drives you’ve got!”
“Captain, the fuel…”
“Doc, you wish to live?” The cold edge in Captain’s voice was enough to freak the nuclear engineer into electrified action. Dr Jake engaged every drive he could.
Only the four of them, flying the Solar Wind, and Wolf and Dr Jake bringing the reliable backup from the machine room. This was not an arena for newbies like Ronan. The team, in this case, was critical – for survival.
The Solar Wind raced along the crests, with the monstrosity on her heels.
“How long do those things live?” Federi shouted at Marsden over the wind.
“It varies,” the First Mate shouted back. “Could go on for a very long time!”
“We don’t have enough fuel for that,” commented Federi, glancing back. “Yoy!”
Marsden glanced too. The damned rogue wave was right behind them; cresting, foaming; an enormous hole in the ocean for a trough. His breath went missing. It was like gazing into the gaping maws of Death. Then there was the constant turmoil from the waves it was crossing at an angle, to make the perfect seaman’s nightmare.
“Radar registers we’re back in deep water in another thirty seconds,” Captain’s shouted command came over their wrist-coms. “Drop the lines, men. We’re submerging. No option. We’ll have to risk the turbulence.”
“No ways, Captain!” shouted Federi. “We need more distance!” He glanced at Jon and adjusted the speedbar sheets.
Lascek swore and cast about for more wind. Maybe if they harnessed the draught from the wave itself… he hauled in the rising cables, shouting the variables through the com to his two mavericks out there.
It did the trick. They got that tiny extra edge to their speed. Slowly they inched their way away from the wave and got a thrust from the one they were on, and then the one ahead of that as they overtook it, skimming down across the face of each much as the surfers Federi had thought of earlier would have done..
This couldn’t last. It was based on a momentary blast and on insufficient fuel. Radomir Lascek sheeted the kite out again, allowing it to rise well into the high winds on a hunch, little by little. It worked; once again, Earth had relayed the correct information to him. There was better wind up there now, even if it was fleeting. But fleeting was all they needed. They shot forward across several waves, the hydrofoils buffering the wild rocking a bit. They gained a bit of distance from the freak.
“In!” he bellowed. “Get in now! We’re diving right now!”
Federi and Marsden dropped their lines and legged it to the bridge. The kite crashed and was hauled into its chute behind them; the rigging folded down on the deck before Federi even closed the door behind him. The Solar Wind dived, engines still full speed to keep in front of the wave.
Federi grabbed onto Rushka’s chair, staring at the display of the freak wave behind them. The little buzz-cam was doing its work beautifully, skimming along the side of the breaking wall, buzzing clear of the foam… the visuals were truly terrifying. If that thing caught the little camera, it was gone. And if the wave caught up with them in these moments of losing too much speed it would deal with them just as easily…
Aargh! It was always bad news relying on the luck of the Animal!
To get deeper down was a momentous task, despite the angle of the hydrofoils pulling them down. To make those hydrofoils work efficiently, you had to have speed. Speed relied on power, and power on fuel. The nuclear and fuel drives of the Solar Wind burnt bright orange in the water; the under-fed solar drives added what feeble push they had left. The Solar Wind’s nose pointed down nearly at forty-five degrees.
“Deeper,” snapped the Captain and drummed another sequence. They weren’t dropping fast enough. They were in the wrong spot, at the wrong angle. Today he wished compounding weren’t such a buoyant substance.
There was a sudden, distinct lift in the whole ship. Lascek heard his two officers behind him catch their breath. The bottom of the wave picking them up!
“Got to get deeper,” muttered Rushka next to him.
“We’ll have to fill the hold of the motorboats,” said Marsden quietly. “Too much air in that.”
“We might lose the boats,” argued Lascek as he keyed the sequence into the console that opened the hold and allowed it to flood. He closed the hatch again and grinned at his First Mate. “Anything else we can sacrifice, Jon?”
“The anchor hold,” said Jon Marsden.
Another fast sequence. The space in the prow that housed the anchor and its mechanism, flooded.
“Federi’s storage bay,” added Marsden.
“You double-checked that he’s not stored in there at this moment?” asked Radomir Lascek as he opened the hatch. Federi laughed behind him.
“Captain,” warned Jon Marsden, and forgot to finish his sentence as the console showed how the ship plummeted, fast, reliably, beneath the foot of the wave. “Awful sensation,” he grinned.
“That sinking feeling,” added Federi.
“We’re in luck there aren’t any more young volcanic islands nearby,” commented Radomir Lascek with a quirky smile. “Recently-sprung ones.”
His hands played over the console and got the readings for turbulences. Those had dropped significantly from a few moments back. Their depth was still dropping; the hydrofoils were doing their job, pulling them down. He checked the link to the tiny rocket cam that was still zooming around out there, getting them the visual. The little flyer was now buzzing around aimlessly. He directed its angle, got a fix on the rogue again, and watched the sequence.
From the coordinates sent by the cam, they had moved out under the wave. It was clearly visible on the screen.
“Dr Jake,” ordered Lascek, “close the nuclear drives. Fuel cells on minimum. Solar drives off.”
On the display, they watched how the wave rumbled on and then eventually broke. And disappeared. Reabsorbed into the stormy sea. Radomir Lascek sighed wistfully and keyed the sequence for surfacing. He turned to his First Mate.
“What are the chances that we’ll encounter another such freak soon?”
“One per week,” said Marsden. “On average. But unlikely that it will be right next to us like this one.”
“Bummer,” commented the Captain with a grin. “Believe this: In the old days people used to think that these were seafarer’s legends!”
“Ha,” growled Jon Marsden.
The water receded from the Solar Wind’s outer deck – barely. He opened the hatch of the storage bay and allowed the water from that to drain; the ship’s nose lifted a bit higher, peering out of the waves. He opened the flap to the anchor house, on the hull of the ship. Water spilt out of it. The ship gained height. He opened the hatch for the motorboats slightly and allowed that to drain, too. The ship steadied as the last unbalancing water poured out. The Zephyr regained her balance.
It was still storming out here. The waves were still disagreeable company. But fuel was a problem. He opened the rigging again, directed his little buzz-camera back into its secret hideaway above the Crow’s Nest, and the Solar Wind continued to fly the storm.