Authors: Anne A. Wilson
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Go for it.
I will be forever grateful to my gem of an agent, Barbara Poelle. She is, without question, the captain of this ship, setting the example with her consummate professionalism and contagiously positive attitude. If only I had a tenth of her wit.â¦ Thanks for taking the leap, Barbara.
To Kristin Sevick, my ace editor, who saw Sara's path so clearly and pushed me to get inside her head to bring more of her to the page. At the end of one scene, she commented, “I don't love this.” She liked it, but she didn't
it. She challenged me to step up, stretch my wings, and make her love it. Thank you, Kristin, for your patience, for everything.
I had the good fortune to collaborate with a gifted couple, Jamie Warren and Steve Youll, on the cover design. Thanks to you both. I was humbled by your vision and avidity for the project. In the end, you nailed it.
Thank you to my copy editor, Christina MacDonald, for the spit and polish. If there's one thing I appreciate, it's attention to detail, and you have this in spades.
To everyone who worked so tirelessly behind the scenes at Tor/Forge Books to bring this novel to life, I offer my heartfelt thanks.
This acknowledgments section wouldn't be complete without mention of my first readers. You answered the call, when out of the blue, I plunked four hundred fifty pages in front of you and asked if you could read “this thing I wrote.” Thank you to Sandy Annos, Terri Vaughn, Dimitra Sampson, Tracy Poulos, Jen Green, Cassie Woo, and Lisa Carlgren.
Special mention to my cousin, Deanne Poulos, who suffered through the first line-by-line edits of the manuscript. You opened my eyes, Deanne, in so many ways. Thank you for your candor, your insightful suggestions, and the time and effort spent shaping the manuscript in its nascent stages.
To my baby sister, Karla Delord, a brainy attorney who dove into the minutia, completing horribly time-consuming line edits to bring the manuscript to its ready state for submission. Thank you, Karla, for your attention to detail, your chocolate chip cookies, and your exuberant enthusiasm for this entire endeavor.
To my next-to-baby sister, Alexia Haugen, for her input to the manuscript, andâthis is a big oneâfor babysitting my kids so I could have time to write. Thank you forever for your support.
To my mother-in-law, Laura Seidelman, thank you for your outstanding feedback and willingness to read more than one version of the manuscript as it took shape. And to Paul Seidelman, who ardently supported this novel from the beginning. I wish you were here to read the final version.
Thank you to my sister-in-law, Deborah Wilson, my go-to girl in New York. Your comments on the first draft were right on the money.
This book would not ring as authentically if not for the members of my extended Navy family who graciously gave of their time and offered the benefit of their experiences. Thank you to my Naval Academy classmate and former Navy SEAL John Czajkowski. To my Naval Academy classmate and surface warfare officer Captain Clint Carroll, USN. And to my HC-11 squadron mate Pete Martino, USN, retired. Due to story requirements, it was necessary for me to deviate at times from the accurate information these individuals provided, so all errors, intentional or otherwise, are mine.
While the characters in this novel are entirely fictional, two were inspired by the real thing. To Vince Wade and Marty Naylor, the real-life inspirations behind Lego and Messy, I could always count on you in the riskiest moments.
To Jim “Jolly” Rogers, my Naval Academy classmate and squadron mate, Sara's gifted piloting skills were modeled after yours. To Sara Applegarth Joyner, Naval Academy classmate and F/A-18 pilot, your list of accomplishments would fill far more space than I'm allotted here. You are, in a word, extraordinary. My protagonist was named in honor of you.
To my fellow helicopter pilots, it was an honor to fly with you. And an enormous thanks goes to each and every one of my aircrewmen. We all know it's you who make the pilots look good.
To the folks at DJ's Bagel Caf
, for supplying the carbs and caffeine that kept my writing brain fueled.
To my parents, Ruth and Tony Hotis, thank you forÂ â¦ well, cripe, just about everything. Genes, right? Love you immenso!
I owe my biggest thank-you to my sons, who were only seven when I started my writing journey. You've shown obliging patience with Mom's “needing-to-write time,” and gone beyond that with your active engagementâbrainstorming titles, cover artwork, and even content. “Mom, you should have, like, this huge battle at the end.â¦” I treasure your suggestions and accept them all gladly. Thank you for your understanding with all of this. I love you more than you can possibly know.
And finally, to my husband, Bill. My best friend, my partner, my everything, who has supported me from day one.
Frigid water fills the cockpit. It seeps into my boots and crawls up my flight suit, slipping through the zippers and finding every seam. I struggle against the straps that bind me to my seat, the water moving steadily upward, flowing around my waist, sliding up my torso, encircling my chest. It is dark. I can't see the water, but I hear it, sloshing over my shoulders, licking at my neck, splashing and gurgling, inching toward my ears. The cockpit rolls right. I crane my helmeted head upward, stealing one last breath before I'm pulled under.
The aircraft tumbles. I grab at the seat rails, muscles rigid, holding myself in place. My instincts scream to disconnect the harness and free myself. Immediately. But I remember the instructions from my training.
Wait until all violent motion stops.
Shivering, I continue to roll. God help me. Seconds stretch to eternity when you're strapped in and held underwater upside down against your will.
I tighten my face, wincing to keep the water out, but it percolates into my sinuses anyway, stinging like a thousand pinpricks.
With an abrupt shudder, the motion stops. I search wildly for the harness-release mechanism and pull. My arms flail as they maneuver to free themselves from the straps. But once I'm free, it's worse. Now I'm floating up. Or is it down? I'm already disoriented.
My hand is ripped from its hold by a swift unintentional kick from my copilot, who, like me, searches in the blind for an exit to the aircraft. Only now, I have no reference point, floating free.
I remember the procedures for egress, an exit strategy ingrained over so many years of navy training.
Reach left hand behind you. Grab bulkhead. Right arm across torso to bulkhead on other side. Pull forward.
I do the actions my hands have memorized, grabbing two structures I pray are the walls to the passageway, and pull hard.
My helmet crashes into something unmovable. I've missed the passageway.
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! Where is it?
My hands frantically grope, searching for an opening. And already, I feel itâthe slow-building pressure that squeezes my chest.
You can do this, Sara. You can do this. Keep it together.
My hand lands on a seat. I'm not sure which one, but the exit must be behind me. I try again.
Left hand on bulkhead, right arm across torso, grab and pull.
There is no resistance. Still clinging with one hand to the bulkhead, I move to the next steps.
Left hand down to crew chief's seat. Hand-over-hand to main cabin door.
An overwhelming heaviness settles over my body. My chest tightensÂ â¦ constrictingÂ â¦ squeezingÂ â¦ searching for oxygen that it won't find. I know what's coming next. My mouth is going to open and it's going to look for the air. I'm going to inhale the moment it opens.
I bolt forward. I don't remember my route. I don't remember anything. My hands are swimming and pulling and grasping at everything and anything. My head is getting light.â¦
I break through the surface with a spastic splash, my lungs heaving with effort to suck in oxygen. I rip the blackout goggles from my face. As I guessed, I'm the last one to surface. I do a sad imitation of a dog paddle to get to the side of the pool, almost kissing the deck when I reach it.
My roommate, Emily Wyatt, waits at the edge, patting me on the back when I arrive.
“Just shoot me, Em,” I say in a spluttered gasp.
“Hey, you did it,” she says. “You always find a way.”
I don't have the energy to tell her that I didn't find anything. Some cosmic deity somewhere pulled me to the surface, because I sure as heck didn't find it myself.
I've barely gotten my breath when the clanging that has permeated so many of my nightmares begins again. The helo dunker is hoisted to the surface and into the ready position.
The helo dunker. God, I hate this device. Every two years, I strap into this heinous contraption designed to simulate a helicopter crash landing in the ocean. You can't fly as a navy helicopter pilot unless you ride this thing, and so, I haul myself out of the pool and return to the holding area to await my fourth and final ride.
The group ahead, aircrewmen and pilots, file into the twenty-foot-long metal drum barrel that mimics a helicopter cabin. Large, square cut-out sections of the barrel serve as windows and, therefore, possible exits. It is through these openings that I watch eight people find their seats and fasten their harnesses.
A metallic clang echoes in the enclosed natatorium as chain-linked metal ropes holding the barrel begin reeling upward, hoisting the dunking apparatus over the water tank. Ten seconds later, the hydraulic pulleys powering the ascension wrench to a halt.
The barrel silently sways, suspended at a height six feet above the surface.
Then, with a quiet click, the chains release, and the drum free falls to the water, a liquid hiss echoing through the chamber on impact.