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Nowhere Atoll

Nowhere Atoll

Автором Lachlan Fyne

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Nowhere Atoll

Автором Lachlan Fyne

260 pages
2 hours
Feb 6, 2014


THEM PREDATORS. WE PRAY! Nowhere Atoll tells the story of Coral Bier, a young oceanographer trying to impress her father by secretly setting out to discover why the Pacific Ocean has become so dangerous - wracked by violent earthquakes and tsunamis and plagued by an explosion in shark attacks and encounters with rare sea creatures. The crusade quickly turns into a fight for survival as Coral’s ragtag crew of marine biology students find themselves in the middle of nature’s fury and the world’s third deepest trench coughs up terrifying secrets mankind will wish had remained hidden.
Feb 6, 2014

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Nowhere Atoll - Lachlan Fyne


Day 1

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Ship Jumping

We had been bobbing aimlessly in the South Pacific for six hours when the first dorsal fin appeared.

Only the condemned could appreciate the fear that gripped the five of us who were still conscious. We were budding oceanographers; we all knew what sharks were capable of.

We were in the apex predator’s domain following the capsizing of our research vessel, but instead of being in a normal life-boat we were desperately treading water while hanging on to the corners of a giant ice chest. It was coffin-sized, but twice as wide, a portable chiller designed to house and transport thousands of small marine samples or one enormous marine creature, not act as a makeshift raft.

Thankfully, it had been custom-built using a bonded polymer that made it incredibly buoyant and tough. My God, it needed to be because it also had three bodies draped on it. Two were at death’s door. The other was in a shock-induced trance, speed-mumbling prayers so that the words jumbled together:


The four of us in the water would gladly have accepted a perch on the ice chest’s lid. We were struggling to cling to the ultra-smooth surface, each hanging on to a carry handle with one hand while backed by a scary safety net - four nylon cords that anchored the chiller to the deck when voyaging were now wrapped around our other wrists. Those straps, tightened to the max, were the only thing preventing a drift away into the deep blue. And all of us were putting up with curbed circulation to our fingers in order not to be separated from the pack.

Any tips on how to block out these pins and needles in my hand? Tusi asked from the corner opposite me.

If it had been anyone else asking the question we would have said man up, we’re all in the same, er, boat. But this was Tusi Apa’au, a nineteen-year-old sweetie with an athlete’s body and a priest’s disposition. Tusi was so genuine and giving many mistook his wonderful nature for retardation. The fact he was a high-achieving second year marine biology student at the University of Auckland pooh-poohed that notion.

I’m sure he was talking in his unique sing-song voice mainly to fill dead air. The swell’s getting up. It’s harder to hold on. My strapped wrist doesn’t know if it wants to be numb or a pin cushion, eh.

I turned to see Holly Mahuta smirking. The Maori beauty floating ethereally closest to me was on the same side but at the opposite end from Tusi. She was the silent, brooding type and didn’t respond. But her chief tutor wasn’t so economical with words. Associate Professor Gregor Lamont, aka Nessie, was a thirty two-year-old on loan from The Scottish Oceans Institute. And the tree-hugging, uni-cycling academic needed to be needed.

Keep flexing it every five minutes, Nessie said from the corner just a metre and a half away from Tusi. Squeeze, knead, shake, jerk.

Enough with the name-calling, Tusi responded in mock indignation.

I smiled - for the first time since our boat had gone down 776kms north-east of New Zealand. We were now floating above the Kermadec Trench, the third deepest scar on the planet, with the current pushing us eastwards, towards South America. Not that we would ever make it that far. Chile was more than nine thousand kilometres away and there was nothing but ocean in-between. Outside of the North and South poles the region we were being pushed towards was the most isolated in the world.

Nessie was blindsided by a larger-than-normal wave and took a face full of water. He spluttered before growling. It feels like I’m fighting every stinking wave.

Oh yeah...and it’s tough with legs that feel like deadweights, Tusi added.

They’re almost as bad as my cracked lips, Nessie moaned.

Well, how about giving them a rest for a while? Holly asked.

We were alone with our own morbid thoughts for a few moments before Nessie spoke again. How about some games?

I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘S’, Holly said sarcastically. This’ll be a quick game.

What about Last Supper? Which people in history would you have at...

Seriously? Holly said. "This is our Last Supper...but without the freakin’ food."

My stomach grumbled in acknowledgement. No pizza deliveries were in the offing.

How about chuck, fuck or marry? Nessie asked hopefully.

Easy bro, Tusi said. No need to swear. You’re upsetting impressionable young women and two committed Christians.

Sorry Tusi. Didn’t mean to offend.

No biggie, eh. You’re just trying to take our minds off, um, things.

Call it wed, bed or fled, I said.

Perfect! Nessie yelled. You do me first Coral.

I’ve given your game a title; doesn’t mean I want to play.

You got something better to do? Nessie asked.

Okay, I sighed after a few moments. Gregor, whom would you wed, bed or flee from: Rebel Wilson, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa or Pippa Middleton?

You tart! How could you do this to me? That’s like choosing between arsenic and cyanide.

You asked me to do you first Gregor. There’s the choice. Didn’t you go to Uni with Kate Middleton? Surely you have a few fantasies there.

I was at St Andrews when Kate and William were there, but that did diddly-squat in terms of my affection for British crumpet.

I heard, Holly said, that having the future King of England on campus caused the female enrolment to shoot up forty per cent.


Holly had set Nessie up. Now she delivered the punchline. I bet it didn’t help you get laid.

I cracked up. Holly was a flawed diamond - beautiful to look at, but cold to touch and incredibly hard. When she fired cutting comments I generally kept quiet. No need to poke the sleeping barracuda.

Nessie didn’t react to the jibe. He simply continued with the game. I’d have to punt Pippa because a hot arse doesn’t atone for the fact she’s an English git. That leaves me to bounce on Rebel Wilson and marry Dame Kiri because I won’t have to live with her too long before inheriting her fortune.

She’s only seventy you arsehole, I said, and she’s way out of your league.

So’s Rebel Wilson, Holly added.

Ouch, Nessie said. I’d be scarred by that if I didn’t already have bigger problems. So play nice people, I’m trying to forget we’re staring down the barrel here.

I’ll keep my mouth shut, Holly said. But I’d rather be whipped with a power cord than play your lame-o game.

Fair enough, Nessie said. I’ll do Tusi, so to speak. Um, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Ricky Martin.

My gasp was instantaneous and obviously loud enough for Nessie to hear. And react.

What? What’s wrong with them?

Nothing you goose, Holly said. But just because Tusi’s a virgin doesn’t mean he’s gay.

Oh shite. The voice; it’s the domain of airline stewards and flamboyant hairdressers, I thought...

Mate, I’d bounce Rebel Wilson too, Tusi said. If I knew what your type of bouncing actually meant.

‘Tusi you legend,’ I thought. Way to go in defusing an awkward situation.

The ice box began vibrating, then jiggling. William Thorne, the Bible-mumbling comatose kidult on the lid, was shaking uncontrollably.

He’s fitting! Nessie said.

Tusi reached over the big yellow box and grabbed Will’s arm. God’s here Will. He’s still here bro.

I turned away. I didn’t feel His omnipresence. But I suspected I might be knocking on his Pearly Gates sometime soon.

Can’t you feel Him? Tusi continued, soothingly. He’s in the wind Will. And in the waves. He’s in the air Will. Take a deep breath brother. Take Him in.

Will stopped shaking. And after several deep breaths he calmed completely, allowing Tusi to slip totally back into the water.

I started counting the seconds until Nessie said something inappropriate. I got to forty-three.

"Do you think all those legendary explorers who didn’t make it became legendary because they didn’t make it?"

C’mon mate, Tusi said, trying to think positive thoughts here, not Scott of the Antarctic freezing to death.

I’d rather live than be legendary. Particularly for this epic failure.

Harsh Holly. We can’t control nature, Tusi said.

I don’t want to control her, she said. Just don’t want her crushing me.

That’s when a wave smacked my head into the ice chiller. Faaark!

Holly turned to me. Coral. You okay?

Lost concentration for a sec and headbutted the box. I’m an idiot.

You’re bleeding.


You’re dribbling blood.

In shark-invested waters, Nessie barked. You haven’t stopped trying to get us killed?

I licked my cut lip. All I tasted was salt. I couldn’t take my hand off the handle to check, but I was sure a lump had already developed on my left temple. Through a dull haze I tried to push aside Holly’s words. But ‘epic failure’ was totally accurate. And I was to blame - all because I was trying to re-connect with the biggest role model I never had. My so-called Dad.

Like all pioneers, my father drew no distinction between passion and obsession. He always said the greatest journeys involve sacrifice, but he never told me sacrifice was such a shared punishment. The divorce was recent, but the separation spanned more than a decade. Professor Hugo Bier simply couldn’t tear himself away from the hydrosphere to be a normal husband and father. He was the world’s leading authority on extreme depths, especially hydrothermal vents and submarine canyons, and was a regular visitor to the world’s deepest point, the Mariana Trench – which, at 10,911 metres deep, would swallow Mt Everest and still have more than two thousand metres left over.

For the past seventeen years he had concentrated on the Pacific Ocean and, more specifically, the Ring of Fire. As a maritime aficionado myself, I understood. The forty thousand kilometre belt of oceanic trenches and volcanoes is home to more than seventy-five per cent of the earth’s volcanoes and rumbles with more than ninety per cent of the world’s earthquakes. At the tender age of forty-three, my Dad already had the distinction of investigating more of the Ring than any other person in history. He had started along the western coast of the Americas, from Chile to Alaska. Visits home to Auckland’s North Shore had been frequent. Then he had whipped across the underside and east coast of Russia and moved down through Japan and into Asia – the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea. Time at ‘home’ had been restricted to the milestone holidays and my birthdays. By the time he started exploring the islands of Fiji and Tonga even my success in platform diving couldn’t coax a visit out of him. When he ‘couldn’t’ make Christmas in 2005 because of a growing fascination with the Kermadec Islands any pretence of parental responsibility evaporated.

I relocated to the United States with my mother and her yoga teacher boyfriend while Dad based himself in Samoa until the 2009 tsunami destroyed his beachfront shack...and claimed almost 200 lives. He had been back in New Zealand for five years when I decided to forego a scholarship with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, turning back the clock to join Dad in the land of my birth.

I started my Masters in Marine Biology at the University of Auckland in February, 2015 and was happily surprised at how quickly I readjusted to a more quaint and less harried lifestyle. I was also thrilled to be enjoying more quality time with my old man of the sea, on and in the water - surfing, diving and exploring.

After my end-of-year exams he rented a beachfront pad at Piha on the west coast of the Auckland isthmus, so we could flag commuting and spend more time surfing one of the world’s most postcard-perfect beaches. Every night the setting sun cast a kaleidoscope of yellows, oranges and reds onto the tips of waves breaking either side of the regal Lion Rock. Idyllic to the max.

I had travelled more than ten thousand kilometres, leaving behind smog and silicon, to see if I still had a father. And the signs were promising.

He even opened up to me. About his feelings. Honey, he said. I’m ecstatic you’re back in my life. Seriously. But please appreciate that having you here reminds me of the missing years. My choices...my loss. If ruining the relationships with my most beloved is going to mean anything, I have to keep ploughing on.

Eyes on the prize, I said, with a hint of disdain.

And deliver a world first, he quickly responded. Atonement through attainment.

But Dad. You’ve never had to prove anything to me. I just wanted to be with you.

He sighed. I get that now. And I’m here for you this time, promise.

He took off less than a week later. Bang, out of my life again. In the most mysterious, peculiar circumstances.

I replayed the scene in my mind - and why not? I had nothing else to do except hang on to my bobbing yellow life-raft. With plenty of time to kill.

I’d bailed early on a late afternoon surf and made my way across the black sand to the beachfront lair we were sharing over the Kiwi summer holidays - December, January and February.

I ditched my board and shimmied up the guttering to lie on the small balcony outside my second-story room, becoming lost in the ever-changing light being cast on the sea by the dying sun.

Dad wandered onto the deck below me. I was just about to call out a welcome when a voice I didn’t recognise said: Are you sure we’re alone?

Positive, Dad said. My daughter’s surfing. Won’t be in for another hour at least.

Good. This is for your ears only.

Why the skullduggery? And why bury Coral’s YouTube clip?

I was puzzled. I had filmed a speech Dad was preparing for a symposium and uploaded it to YouTube on a private setting that only my besties could view and comment on. But it had disappeared the next day and I was blocked from reloading the clip because of ‘copyright infringement’. So it was these guys. Whoever ‘these guys’ actually were.

It’s not skullduggery Professor. It’s about being discreet. We’re leading a consortium that needs to find answers to the problems confronting the South Pacific. If the anomalies escalate they threaten ship movement throughout the region. Any idea of the economic impact?

I appreciate that more than seventy-five per cent of China’s oil imports pass through the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia. I bet that’s just the tip of the financial iceberg.

This is big. And this is bad. Richard Branson is firing up an expedition. A Greek shipping magnate is funding a research program. And we’re solution-seekers too.

Who is ‘we’?

A private consortium. Funded up the wazoo. Beautifully resourced.

And my theories mesh with your thinking?

In part. The YouTube clip offered some interesting observations.

What parts resonated? Dad asked.

Your epicentre theory; the potential causes; the urgency of required action.

I knew Dad’s speech off by heart and it wasn’t hard to imagine the impact it could have on squillionaire benefactors.

"I’ve lived on the Pacific Ocean all my life and I’ve never seen her as unforgiving. You all know deaths and disappearances in the Pacific have mushroomed by nine hundred per cent in the last five months, but did you know quakes and tsunami in the region have increased twelve-fold? That the Great Barrier Reef’s most prolific and fast breeding fish, the goby, has all but died out? And that Norfolk Island’s fishing operators - the tough bastard descendants of The Bounty mutiny - are too scared to leave port, even though their livelihood depends on it? We have a problem people, a monumental problem. Almost seventy per cent of our planet is covered in water greater than one thousand metres in depth, yet only five per cent has been explored. We know so little about it. We know intimate details about Saturn’s largest moon because Voyager has been on the case more than one point two billion kilometres away...

"Yet we’ve never seen more than six and a half kilometres below the ocean’s surface. Wow. We can travel more than a billion k’s into space, but we can’t go ten k’s underwater on our own planet. Doesn’t that strike you as odd, if not downright criminal?

"Mark my words, we have not missed the boat with marine discoveries. Mankind’s next dawn of understanding won’t be in some outer reach of the cosmos. I’m still totally bemused as to why we keep reaching for the stars when the very future of this planet could depend on looking down and understanding our most dominant resource. Why are we only scratching the surface?"

So what’s the guts? Dad asked the mystery guest. What do you want?

We have an expedition leaving from Sydney tomorrow. We want you on it.


You doing something else more important?

My daughter...

Is twenty-two years old. I’m sure she can fry a fish.

I can’t just up and leave. I’ve done that to her too often.

You’ll be paid handsomely Professor.

Do you have a brewery sponsor? That could just about get me across the line. Then came the fateful addendum. A major gift for my daughter would clinch it.

Don’t push it Professor.

Hey, you came to me. With your up-the-wazoo funding and crates of whiskey. Do you want me or not?

It took the visitor more than a few seconds to respond. Let’s get this straight Professor. We will tolerate your peculiarities to a point. But be a team player this time will you? I doubt you’ll have any more second chances.

I’ll get packing.

No need, the stranger said. We have everything you could possibly need - clothes, equipment, a doctor...

Just one quick note.

We go. Now.

When I headed downstairs just minutes later I saw a hastily scrawled message from Dad above the CodeCracker on the puzzles page of the morning newspaper. Sorry hon. Seconded to an exciting expedition at short notice. Will be in touch. Love you! xxx

The next day a brand new car was delivered to me, complete with ownership papers and a five-year warranty. I sold that Mercedes convertible for eighty-five thousand dollars and mounted my own expedition.

I asked my favourite study buddies to leap into the unknown as well and, after convincing me to take Nessie on board, they had accepted the challenge.

The unknown wasn’t fazed.

We journeyed north east from Auckland on board the rather rustic wooden monohull maritime research launch Waaka Rapu.

We were three-quarters of the way to our destination when Nessie sidled up to me at the stern. The early morning sun was barely above the horizon, but already packed some serious January heat, thanks to sucky ozone depletion levels above

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