(Chapter 1: Rude Awakenings)

Water. "Holy Crap!" Pain. Screams. Fire. "We have to get out of here!" The whole world was turning on end. Can't breathe. "Mike!"

"Hey Mike, wake up!"

Mike Hooper woke up in with his heart pounding and in a cold sweat, but otherwise very tired and very groggy and in a reasonably good mood. God damned bad dreams. Quickly, he looked around, getting his bearings. Still dark, only the moon and the stars out the window. Is it night? Is it morning? Occasionally light would pass through the window as another cars headlights would pass by the windows of the bus, but nothing outstanding. It looked like the sun was on the rise, but it would be a while before anything even close to a sunrise would happen. Occasionally the bright lights of a semi truck would pass by, but they were few and far between.

"Goddamn Oceanography class," he heard a voice say.

Looking to his right, Mike saw his best friend sitting next to him. Tyler Kroeger, redneck to the first order and not the brightest bulb in the circuit, but overall one of the nicest guys around and interesting whenever you get him near matches and some gasoline. God knows nobody tries harder.

"Huh?" was all Mike could muster up the energy for.

"I said God damned Oceanography class! This is supposed to be five science credits, not something I get up at four in the morning to get to school by five for."

"You woke me up just so you could gripe?"

"Basically," Tyler said, "I was bored."

"Besides the fact that you woke me up and seriously pissed me off, most of the great science done is field work, you are getting a truly unique opportunity here. And besides, when have you ever been on a boat before?"

It seemed as if Tyler needed to muster up every brain cell to think of an answer, "Never I guess."

"Exactly. Neither have I for that matter. Kind of a crime since we both live in California, eh?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Besides, we're in perhaps one of the nicest busses around, complete soundproofing, TV and DVD player, bathroom. First class all the way man," Mike said, stretching out in his seat.

"Wow, you actually talked like you could've been cool there for a second," Tyler said guffawing.

"Shut up cracker, people are trying to sleep here!" yelled someone from across the aisle. Tyler and Mike both looked across to see Clinton Baker and Lori Winston glowering over for a moment before returning to making out. Mike watched as Clinton pulled a beach towel over him and his girlfriend, and sounds of passion began to emanate from the seat.

"Hey Mike, snap out of it man."

Looking back to his friend, Mike yawned again.

"Man, how come we can't get dates and Clinton always gets in the pants of pretty much every girl in school?"

Laughing again, Tyler looked to his friend with a bit of intelligence.

"You want me to list the reasons?"

Amused by where the conversation was going, Mike simply nodded.

"He's in, like perfect shape, he's got good teeth, he's captain of the football team, he's feared by every guy at school, he's rich and he's got a motorcycle. What do you got to offer?"

Sitting around, Mike thought of an answer, and failed miserably.

"A job at some second rate pizza joint, a Toyota, ten extra pounds, glasses, and red hair."

Finally bored of the conversation, Mike started rooting around in his backpack for a flashlight and a book. With a bit of success and luck, he found the perfect bus reading material, "Great Disasters of the Modern Era." Idly flipping through the pages while Tyler was continuing on a rant, he dropped the flashlight in between two random pages. Clumsy, you gotta add that to the list, Mike thought with somewhat of a laugh and a little bit of resentment. Clumsy is another one of your more attractive qualities. Lifting the flashlight so the pages could be read, he was greeted with the picture of a boat with a gaping hole in the side. The ANDREA DORIA it read. A chill went up his spine at seeing the picture of a boat with a gaping hole in its side. Just admit it Mike, you're afraid of drowning, and that's why you had that damned dream. Though reading about a shipwreck before going on a boat ride isn't going to help very much.

"Hey Mike, you still listening to me man?"

Shaking himself off inside, Mike spoke up, "Yeah, I'm cool."

"Oh yeah you're cool. Exactamundo tu problemo mi amigo."

Bored and very tired, Mike giggled at his friends answer.

"Three years of Spanish class and that's the best answer you could come up with?"

"Hey man," Tyler said, "I failed the first two times, cut a guy some sla-"

His voice was cut off by a football hitting him square in the chest. Grabbing the ball and standing up, Tyler could see the culprit, Nick Romero, senior, utterly brilliant when it came to topics of history and photography, though otherwise completely inept at all things related to people.

"Hey man, a little help?" Nick hollered from the front.

Smiling his wide, toothy smile, Tyler pulled his arm back and let the ball fly, hitting Nick square in the face.

"Nice hands Nick," Tyler joked.

Nick could have made something of it if he wanted to, but Tyler was well known as a dirty fighter and a guy who likes to hit below the belt. Time can be better spent than beating some inbred redneck hick into the ground, Nick mused, smiling at circumstances. Locked in a bus headed for the beach, no school, no exams…

Craning his neck so that he could get a better look at the seat in front of him, Nick let his cocky grin go across his face, and you're surrounded by beautiful women. Dad was right, Oceanography is the way to go, chicks dig the guy who goes for the science class that deals with seals and dolphins and all that other friendly and fluffy crap. Popping on the headphones of his walkman, he pumped up the volume on a loud guitar solo from Santana's "Smooth". Now that's a good omen, he thought, you're smooth, he's smooth, chicks're smooth, it's all good. Adjusting his position so he sat back in his seat, he felt his backpack shift underneath him, sending it and its contents tumbling to the floor. Hitting a bad corner, the walkman shifted radio stations and jolted up the volume what felt to be a few million points to Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic.

"Holy shit!" he yelled, ripping the headphones from his ears. He inadvertently threw the player up, landing it in the seat in front of him. Rock and roll at a loud volume is all right at this hour in the morning, but Celine Dion at an excruciating volume is a whole 'nother issue. Popping up from two seats in front of him, came the heads of Tina Carpenter the blonde, and Sarah Rodriguez the Latina, both cheerleaders and both best friends, often rumored to be gay among the lower classes, though truth be told they couldn't be if they wanted to.

"You lose something?" Sarah said with a mischievous grin.

"Yeah," was the best that Nick could manage to spit out with the two beautiful women sitting above him, "a little help?"

Tina held the CD player teasingly above him, "You forgot to say please."

"Please?" Nick said deadpan.

"That didn't sound sincere enough to me," Tina said, "say it with conviction."

"Come on, give it back!" Nick said, raising his voice above the crowd, gathering a few shushes and some dirty looks from people sitting around him.

"Say PLEASE," Tina said with a laugh.

"Tina, just give it to him," Sarah said.

"No way, this is too much fun," Tina said with a sarcastic laugh.

"Give it back before I make you think about me wearing a speedo," Nick said in a manner with which to terrify the other girls. It was successful.

"Ewwww!!!!" Tina said with great exaggeration, giving the player back to its rightful owner.

The two girls say back down in their chair, with Sarah laughing like hell and Tina sporting a look of disgust on her face.

"You gotta admit that was pretty funny," Sarah said with a snicker.

"That was just, like, totally gross," Tina persisted, "I wanna just run a toothbrush across my brain, 'cause it's like, ewwww!!!"

"Don't you go worrying yourself with Nick now, the guy's a freak," Sarah said.

"I heard that!" Nick said from his seat, the headphones still hanging around his neck.

"That's nice," Sarah said.

She turned her attention forward, looking to the TV. It was too early in the morning for there to be anything good on TV, just hours upon hours of Gilligan's Island repeats. With nothing better to do, Sarah just dozed off, leaning her head against the window of the bus.

In a seat across the way, Rhonda Craven sat uncomfortably wedged up against a window. She sat next to Rudy Williamson, a big African-American student who many gave the nickname John Henry for his sheer size and brute strength. He was a star defender on the school's oft-times losing football team, and generally a good-hearted guy. Rhonda herself was of similar social status at the school, a track and field athlete and the first African-American ever to be the editor of the school newspaper, even though she really just liked to write. She initially jumped at the chance to be sitting next to Rudy, having had a schoolgirl crush on the big man, but almost as soon as the bus started up he was unconscious. As time went by, he began leaning up against her, making her scrunch herself more and more against the window. She tried to keep the sheer awkwardness of the situation out of her mind by looking out the window, watching the darkened buildings on the way to beach and streaks of light from oncoming cars. Watching out the window, she could see an industrial oil field, the pumps cycling up and down, looking like giant, metallic insects. In the middle of the field, there were a couple of pumps that looked like they had been knocked down for some reason. As the bus moved on and the view changed, Rhonda got a glimpse of how it happened. There were the remains of an airplane that had crashed long ago, a hollow, burned out shell. It was no bigger than a Cessna, but it stood out clearly for some reason. She shuddered slightly at the thought. There's a good omen, she thought with a laugh. She sighed, leaning up against the window and trying her best to get some sleep.

At the front of the bus sat the only three true adults of the group. Mr. Valentine "Val" Christy was the school's designated Oceanography class teacher. A bearded and balding man in his mid-fifties, he couldn't have been any prouder of the two classes. It was a constant fight with the school to get the yearly field trip on, and this year looked to be the last one. The budget isn't big enough for semester sciences, they'd say, so Human Physiology, The Developing Child, Psychology, and Oceanography would all have to be cancelled. Well, looks like your back to teaching biology, Mr. Christy thought with a scowl. A good, hearty science class, but the students were all bored with it. At least Oceanography gets them interested in science. Besides, the students in Oceanography could care less at the language you used, they signed up for the class knowing what they'd get.

He smiled his wise smile, looking at the two other "adults" on the trip. Darwin Wong was a curious college student in his early twenties, desperately trying to work out some hours for community service and also trying his best to get his degree in education. Regardless, he was a quick learner and was easy to please, and a few months as a teachers assistant, or an overrated chaperone would help him out a bit. He snored loudly, a trail of drool leaking from the edge of his mouth and onto his copy of Jaws. He'd have an interesting wakeup call, Mr. Christy thought with a smile. Then there was Ms. Aileen Rhodes, the civics teacher and without a doubt the most beautiful teacher in school. It was a popular rumor among the students that she once had a career in pornography, one that most of the male students wished to confirm but none ever could. She was a pleasant looking blonde in her late twenties, also watching the Gilligan's Island episodes through her pair of wire-rimmed glasses. He looked at his watch, almost six o'clock. The sun would be coming out soon, be at the beach in another, half an hour? Oh well, he thought as he leaned back in his bus chair, better make this one last.

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The bus finally reached the beach at 6:45, almost half-an-hour earlier than expected. The beach town of Vista Del Mar was small and sparsely populated, as the beaches and waters weren't safe or good enough for surfers, being pot marked with tide pools and other havens for sea life. There was a nice marine conservatory, with its own group of marine biologists and their own miniscule fleet of scientific vessels. The bus pulled into the parking lot, and Mr. Christy stood up in front. He surveyed his class, most of them sleeping or most of them so bored to the point that they wouldn't care if the world ended at that very moment. Looking to get their attention, he reached into his trademark leather satchel and pulled out an air horn. He held it above his head, and pulled the trigger. The bus filled with a deafening roar of the horn and more than a few screams and curses from the student body.

"Welcome one and all to scenic Vista Del Mar! Thirty-eight of you got on this bus, and I sure as hell expect for thirty-eight of you to get off of this bus! Come on, let's get up and moving! There's cold coffee and hot milk, or something like that waiting for us at the conservatory, and donuts, yes you heard me right, donuts! If y'all don't get up and at 'em Ms. Rhodes, Darwin and I will be obligated to eat all the donuts for ourselves, now you wouldn't want that now, right? So get a move on, food's on the way! Come on people, we don't have all morning, let's go!" Mr. Christy said in his usually energetic and almost psychotic fashion.

"Come on Mr. Christy, we need sleep!" Nick grumbled, just slightly louder than the rest.

"All right, no donuts for you Mr. Romero, and now your grade revolves around whether or not you kiss a sea cucumber! We find one and you kiss it and you pass this class, all right?"

Nick laughed along with a few of the other classmates, until Mr. Christy looked on in all seriousness, "You think I'm kidding?"

Nick's wide and toothy grin quickly turned to a scowl, before he was caught up in the melee to get out of the bus and get at the donuts. Mr. Christy did a quick head count, and surely enough there were thirty-eight students. Thirty-eight students, two faculty and one teacher's aide. They all had varying levels of excitement and enthusiasm, but the general census seemed to be that everyone was happy to be there. The aging man smiled.

"So, this is your last field trip?" Ms. Rhodes asked as she lifted her backpack.

"Excuse me?" Mr. Christy responded as he got out of his thoughts.

"This is your last oceanography field trip? Right?"

"Oh, yeah, I mean, yes it is. Every year I look forward to this, and now they don't have the budget or the spine for it anymore. It gives this old fossil the perfect excuse to retire, I'm just going to go up to my cabin and study Venus Flytraps for the rest of my days."

"Sounds like you got yourself a plan there old-timer," Ms. Rhodes said playfully.

"Get out of here you little sprout before I tear you a new one," Mr. Christy said in response, adding his usual wink and a nod. She's cute, he thought, and you're old enough to be her father. Or at least you're old enough to know better. He picked up his leather satchel and books and walked to the exit of the bus. With a polite nod to the driver, he stood at the door. He looked out, surveying the rocky beach, the rough surf, and the cloudy skies. The sun was breaking through and the air was cool, but it was pleasant enough. He breathed in the air and relished it. This is your last time, he thought to himself, damn you've had some good years here. With a moment's hesitation, he stepped off of the bus.