The turquoise water surrounded Kaia Oana in a warm, wet blanket of delight. She angled her body like a torpedo and zipped through the lagoon beside Nani. The Pacific bottle-nosed dolphin spiraled like a top then burst through the waves above Kaia’s head in a jump of pure joy.
Kaia felt like doing the same. She arched her back and moved her hands through the water in the flowing hula movements she loved. The movement felt like a prayer, and in many ways, it was. She smiled and kicked her fins, shooting to the top of the water with Nani.
Her head broke the surface three feet from her boat, Porpoise II, as it rocked gently in the small swells off the island. She blinked salt water out of her eyes then waved at her brothers before turning her gaze to the Na Pali coastline. It soared some four thousand feet and touched clouds that covered the peaks with mist. If she squinted her eyes just right, one rock looked like a brontosaurus straight out of Jurassic Park.
The music from the CD player she’d brought echoed on the wind. Amy Hanaiali`i Gilliom sang “Palehua,” a song about the way Hawaii’s mountains call to the soul. Today Kaia felt that pull strongly. She swam to the boat and slipped off her fins then climbed into the Porpoise II. The Hawaiian trade winds brought more than mere salt-laden breezes today, a sure sign that the perfect day with her two brothers was about to end.
Bane sat in the bow with his fishing pole over the side. He saw Kaia and nodded toward the clouds. “Auę! You didn’t check the weather again, did you?” Her brother’s tone was gentle and held only a hint of reproach. Mano looked up at the sky and then into the fish bucket, which held only a couple of small snapper.
Kaia grabbed a towel and grinned at her brothers. “Why check? It hardly ever changes.” She would relish this time with them. They were so often separated these days.
Nani rose on her tail and moved backward through the water. The dolphin gave a chirp then sank beneath the waves and chased brightly colored fish beneath Kaia’s boat. Two other dolphins, eager to play with Nani, jumped in front of the boat in perfect unison then swam away.
They gave their pod’s characteristic “call,” a signature whistle that had been imprinted by their mother in the hours after birth. Nani had been only a few months old when Kaia found her as an orphaned calf, but when Kaia released her into the wild, she’d quickly joined this pod of six bottle-nosed dolphins. Nani never forgot Kaia was her “mother” though, and the two had formed a bond that had fueled Kaia’s obsession with dolphin research.
Kaia laughed at their contagious joy then noticed a man along the shore staring out to sea through binoculars. A tourist probably. She watched him a bit longer. There was a curious intent in the way he stood, and a touch of unease stirred in her stomach. Her smile faded. She shook her head. Her imagination had a tendency to run wild.
She turned to watch the dolphins again, never tiring of their grace. Nani chattered and swam to the boat. She pushed her nose against Kaia, and Kaia ran her hand over the dolphin’s sleek head. It felt like a warm inner tube. Nani butted her again, and Kaia laid her head against the dolphin. Nani seemed to sense her moods with an almost uncanny ability.
Several warm drops of rain pattered onto the sea. Kaia lifted her face into the mist and watched the clouds swoop lower. Her brothers would want to get in, but she loved to be part of the elements, to smell the moisture and to experience the boat rolling along the waves.
“Storm’s coming pretty quick now,” Mano said, putting away his gear.
Kaia glanced at the sky. “We’d better get to shore.” She yanked on the boat’s anchor. As she bent over the boat and tugged at the rope, a vibration seemed to come out of nowhere. Kaia looked up and saw something pass overhead with a shriek that caused her to clap her hands to her ears.
“Look out!” Mano shouted. He grabbed Kaia’s arm and forced her to sit down.
The high-pitched sound surrounded Kaia and made her want to scream herself. The vibration intensified then rocked their vessel. She dropped her hands from her ears and grabbed the side of the boat. The vibration grew from a steady hum into thunder, ending in an explosion that seemed to fill the world. Bane reached over and steadied her or she would have toppled off her seat and into the water.
Still holding her brother’s hand, Kaia stared in the direction of the blast. Thick, black smoke roiled up from the water to her east, nearer to shore. The echoes of shouts and screams rose above the sound of the waves and wind. She tore her gaze from the sight and turned to find Nani. Only the dolphin’s nostrum protruded from the water like a beak as she quivered at the commotion. She rolled to the side, exposing one eye that blinked with concern.
“I think it’s a tourist boat!” Mano leaned forward with a pair of binoculars.
Dread coiled in the pit of Kaia’s stomach. She squinted. “Can you see the boat’s name?”
“Yeah, it’s the Squid.”
“Laban’s boat!” She stared at her brothers and saw the same stricken expression she knew must be on her own face. Their cousin had only operated the tourist sightseeing catamaran a little over a year.
New urgency fueled them. Bane pulled in the anchor. Mano started the motor.
“Come, Nani!” Kaia shouted over the roar of the engine as the boat picked up speed. Mano turned the boat toward the disaster. Kaia leaned into the wind, frantically scanning the sea for people. The fresh scent of salt water mixed with an oily odor that clung to her nose and throat.
The dolphin kept up with the Porpoise II as it slammed against the waves, the swells building now from the impending storm. As they drew nearer, she could see a sixty-foot catamaran on fire with at least a dozen people in the water.
“I’ll call it in!” Mano turned and grabbed the radio mic.
“Help me!” a woman screamed as she caught sight of Kaia.
Kaia turned to seize a flotation cushion, but Bane beat her to it and tossed the cushion to the woman. A boy of about fourteen, his face blackened by smoke, swam toward the boat and reached out his hand. Bane hauled him in.
The boy landed on the deck. “My mom!” he panted. He scrambled to all fours and pointed to another woman floating face- down in the water.
The woman wasn’t moving. Kaia dove overboard. The mounting waves tossed her about as she swam to the woman. She rolled the boy’s mother over. The woman’s eyes were closed, and she didn’t appear to be breathing. Kaia fought the whitecaps and towed the woman to the boat then pushed her into Bane’s arms. He pulled the limp figure over the edge.
“I know CPR,” the boy panted. “Please find my sister. She’s out there somewhere.” He bent over his mother.
Bane hesitated then nodded and jumped in the water with Kaia.
Kaia wanted to search for Laban, but victims bobbed all around her. She struck out toward a man ten feet away, but the dolphin got there first. Nani nudged him until he grabbed hold of her dorsal fin, then she towed him toward the Porpoise II.
Mano soon joined them. He struck off toward the burning catamaran. Kaia propelled herself through the waves toward another victim. The thick, oily smoke hung low over the choppy seas and burned her eyes and throat. Her muscles ached, and she lost count of how many people she and her brothers hauled to her boat. At least ten, she was sure.
Looking around her craft, she saw people lying on the small deck. The boat rode low in the water, and she knew they’d have to stop soon or the rough seas would swamp the small craft. But not yet. Laban was still out here somewhere.
Praying for strength, she plunged back