cruiser any faster for fear of scraping the rim of the submerged atoll. Even the shipwreck posed a threat in vapor this dense—we had to be almost on top of it.
Popping the hatch, I stood on the pilot seat to get a better vantage. “Drift looks like a giant Portuguese man-of-war with a blue-and-purple flexiglass dome,” I told Gemma, who amazingly enough was wearing her diveskin for the second time in two days.
“I can’t see anything in this fog,” she said.
I sent a series of clicks into the haze—pitched too high for Gemma to hear—then considered the picture that the echoes formed in my brain. I could make out the grounded transport ship ahead, creaking with each wave, but no township, which was strange. We weren’t late. I’d chosen to hide the wagon in the trash vortex in part because it was close to the rendezvous point.
“Maybe it’s submerged.” Gemma joined me in the open hatch.
“Doubtful.” I knew that the surfs aboard Drift were fishermen and seal hunters. The township could travel subsea, but mostly it kept to the ocean’s surface while dragging electrified nets below.
“Maybe your parents changed the meeting place because of the fog.”
“No, I’ll bet they’re inside the wreck, still waiting for Drift to show.” Dropping back into the pilot seat, I steered the cruiser alongside the wreck and turned on the autopilot. “I’m going in to see what Pa wants to do with the wagon.” I hoisted myself out of the cruiser. “Grab a speargun from the back.”
“You’ve got one in your holster.”
“I mean for you. A precaution in case surfs show up and try to take the crop without paying.” Catching her look of alarm, I asked, “Remember how to load it?” When she nodded, I slid onto the cruiser’s narrow side deck. “Give a shout if you see anything.”
I eyed the shadowy outline of the shipwreck within the fog. The bow and stern towers rose over the waves but the flat deck in the middle was under the waterline. At one time this ship had been a luxury transport vessel that took people up and down the East Coast on a regular schedule. But a storm had pushed the ship off course,and a rogue wave had dumped it on top of a submerged atoll. Since then, it had been stripped of its velvet seats and leather paneling, but the Seaguard left the hull in place to keep other ships from running aground as well.
Gingerly, I leapt from the cruiser’s bumper onto a balcony in the bow tower, splashing down in water up to my waist. Wanting a better vantage point, I climbed up to the next balcony, using the holes in the rusted hull as toeholds. The railing was long gone and the floor looked anything but solid. I stepped through the opening that had once been a sliding glass door, moved quickly through the private cabin and into the hall beyond.
The corridor opened onto a large atrium in the center of the tower. Leaning over the low wall, I looked for the gaping hole in the floor one story down, where the boiler had exploded when the ship crashed. Now ocean waves lapped in the pit. If the wagon hadn’t been attached to the cruiser, I would have surfaced there. As it was, I expected to see the Slicky bobbing in the char-rimmed hole, but there was no sign of our minisub. Strange, since my parents were right where I thought they’d be—off to one side of the atrium.
They were talking with a wiry, leather-skinned man, whom I recognized as Drift’s sachem, Hadal. As always, his gnarled appearance stopped me cold. The half ear Hadal had lost to skin cancer wasn’t even his mostalarming feature. That distinction belonged to the two small horns, sprouting on the left side of his hairless head. Cutaneous horns—shriveled and yellow like old fingernails. Another horrible effect of too much sun over too many years. Shoving down my disgust, I noticed that Hadal was alone, which seemed even weirder than our missing minisub.
Before calling down, I scanned the atrium. Broken panes in the filthy skylight