Overloaded as it was, the slim speedboat surged rapidly through the water making for Jorge's Patch. As the sun rose above the horizon, I could almost hear the tick tock of my waterlogged and now defunct watch. Go, go, go, it seemed to shout at me. With every mile we put between us and Cairns, the more anxious I became. Are we far enough away yet? How far away do we have to be?
"Carrying this amount of weight, we've probably only got a few hours of petrol. If we don't intercept Joe's boat within the next hour, we're going to have to think about heading for one of the islands to refuel." Ken observed. Michele sent me an anxious look.
"We'll find him." I reassured her. We have to.
Half an hour later, the drizzle ended, much to our relief, allowing the warmth of the day to dry our clothes. We scanned the horizon for any sign of a fishing boat, without any luck.
"Are you sure this is the way Daddy went?" Michele asked, binoculars glued to her face.
"Unless they changed their plans when they were underway, yes." It was the first time the thought had occurred to me, and I felt sick at the knowledge that we might miss them altogether.
Twenty minutes later, Lucas spotted a boat on the horizon. As Ken set the speedboat on an intercept path with them, Michele stood beside me at the front of the boat. It had to be them. As we neared the fishing boat, I strained my eyes to see the name on the side of the vessel.
"It's the Sea Princess!" I yelled. "It's your Daddy's boat!" Michele screamed and hugged me excitedly. We danced in a circle like kids - not the easiest thing to do on a small speedboat.
The Sea Princess slowed and stopped as we neared them. Bumping against their hull, we waved and yelled at the faces appearing over the side. The speedboat seemed so small next to their boat.
"Lori? Michele?" Joe's disbelieving voice drifted across. "What the hell?"
I searched the faces of the men gathering at the edge of the boat until I found his familiar thin face. I beamed him a smile of utter joy.
"Daddy!' Michele screamed, a cry quickly taken up by Sarah and Alex.
"Kaye!" Andy appeared beside Joe, looking bewildered. The noise rose to chaotic levels for a few minutes as his wife and children greeted him ecstatically.
The captain of the ship stepped forward. "Would any of you like to explain to me what is going on?"
I nodded. "Yes. May we come on board, first?" He nodded. Minutes later, the speedboat was tied up alongside and the group had started to move across. I lingered for a moment and then, without really knowing why, I unwrapped the pistol from its' waterproof covering and stuck it in my belt. Maybe I just felt naked without a weapon these days.
Stepping onto the boat, I saw my husband embracing Sarah and Alex tightly, a look of dismay on his face. I felt sick. How would he react when he realised I was responsible for the loss of his baby's arm. His eyes found mine over her head, a look of confusion and disbelief in them. Then he stood up and strode over to me. I found myself enveloped in my husband's arms. Sighing, I wrapped my arms around him and allowed the comforting feel of his embrace to seep through my body. Home, it whispered, safety.
"Are you okay?" He asked with concern, pulling away to search my face. "Lori, what the hell happened?!"
I sighed. "It's a long story." Turning to Michele and Lucas, I asked them to take the babies and Jessie downstairs and find something to feed them. It had been a long night for all of us.
Sitting around the deck, Kaye, Ken and I outlined the situation to the captain, Joe, Andy and the three other men who had been on the fishing expedition. There was silence for a long time after we finished.
"It did seem odd that we couldn't raise anyone on the radio..." The captain murmured. A tanned, rugged man in his forties, he seemed competent and sensible. "But I'm sorry, you must understand that this story is really incredible."
I nodded, looking at the stunned faces around me. "I know. But it's the truth."
He nodded grimly. "Maybe." He stood up decisively. "But you must realise that I cannot take your word at face value."
I nodded. "Take us to down to Townsville and then you will soon find out what we're saying is true."
He snorted. "Going four hours out of my way because of your story would make me a laughing stock. I can be back in Cairns in no time and then I'll see for myself if there is any truth to your story."
Ken bolted upright before I could open my mouth to protest. "Are you crazy? Did you hear anything we had to say about nuclear bombs about to be dropped?"
The captain nodded. "I heard you. However, even if the rest of your story is oddly convincing, your basis for believing a nuclear bomb is going to be dropped on our city is pretty flimsy. Certainly not enough to stop me going back, I'm sorry."
Kaye, Ken and I looked at each other with various degrees of frustration and anxiety on our faces. We knew that we couldn't risk going back. How the hell were we going to convince this man who held our lives in his hands?
"Captain, do you honestly believe we would take a boat all the way out here on a whim?"
"As I don't know you at all, it's possible. However, it is far more likely that you are confused and mistaken."
"Confused!" I exploded, surging to my feet. "I saw with my own eyes people die of horrendous wounds and then get up and try to kill me. We all have. What part do you think we are confused about?" From the corner of my eye, I was aware of Joe staring at me. I guess I didn't really sound like the wife he had left behind.
"I don't know." The captain looked discomforted - and a little desperate. "Maybe this is just your idea of a practical joke. "
"I don't think you really believe that." Kaye interjected quietly from beside Andy. "You just can't bring yourself to accept it. Do you have family in Cairns, captain?"
He nodded jerkily.
"I'm sorry." She murmured sympathetically. It was as if she had slapped him. The colour drained from his face.
"I'm returning to Cairns now." He spoke woodenly. "If you do not wish to come, you are welcome to return to your speedboat."
The captain turned to go. I stood up without conscious thought and pointed my pistol at his back.