LEEZA HAD TO LAUGH as the fucking idiot boat driver clawed at the goggles, his face gone pasty green.
“Alto! Let go.” She snatched his hands away, peeled the electrode flap from his neck, and pulled off the goggles. “You’ll screw up my gear.”
He shuddered and scrubbed his face with his hands. “What was that? You turned up the gain on me, didn’t you?”
“Big hombre can’t take a little reverse stim?”
He shot a look at the recorder box and muttered, “It’s warped.”
She snorted. “For your information, you just got a free ride on a top-gun prerelease newsstim. So feel lucky.”
“Free ride? Like last night? You get off on recording yourself, don’t you? Selling the public your. . . .”
“So original, Mitchell. All artists are whores?”
“Artists.” He pushed past her. “I don’t have time for this.” He headed back through the cabin to the wheel.
Leeza rolled her eyes, coiled the leads, and stowed her gear. Typical NeoLuddite, freeze at the sight of a neural probe. She carried her gear into the cabin. Grabbed her embroidered neon toreador pants from a bag and pulled them on. Mitchell was checking instruments as she moved up beside him.
She leaned over the console, deliberately brushing him with a little shimmy.
“You mind?” He spread out some maps, making a big deal out of it.
She perched against the edge of the console and flashed him a mocking smile. “Important stuff? Que macho. Sure you don’t want to show off your toys? How about an added eight per for some action here, your back only, at the wheel? Maybe fake some emergency.”
She still had the crimson polish on. Perfect. Her long nails clicked across digital readouts. Her fingers stroked a knobbed joystick as she shaped her lips into a replay of last night’s chill smile.
He clutched. She could see it.
She laughed merrily.
“Jesus Christ!” He plucked her hand from the controls. “I don’t have to fake some emergency. That patrol boat’s still out there, along with who knows what pirates or Sons of the Prophet. More solar flares with the geomag turbulence, too, screwing up radio reception, radar, satellite nav. So we’re running by the seat of our pants here.”
She froze for a second. Then she shrugged and hopped off the console. “They told me you were halfway competent.”
He started up the engines in a roar and rumble. “We’ll be underway again in a minute. Go up top, your victims will like the view through the islands.”
“Ha. Ha.” But she gathered her gear, wrestled it out and up the ladder onto the top platform, sneaked a shot of him hauling up the anchor lines.
He scrambled up to the wheel, and she edged over on the bench, wrinkling her nose at his sweaty stink adding to the general fishy ambiance onboard. The boat eased forward. The rock walls pinched in tighter, and she gnawed her lip, trying to keep the camera steady.
“Ohh—!” She caught a sharp breath as they broke out of the shade into open water, light pouring over her. The camera swung in a dizzy swoop: cliff towering above, sapphire sea below, razor-sharp white island gleaming off in the distance. The engines roared and with a surge the boat was rushing Leeza into a dazzle of spray and shrieking wheeling gulls. It sounded like someone else whispering, “Maximal. . . .”
She gripped the camera. “Unreal!” Almost like Virtual Reality. Absolute immersion—that light! Sunlight quivering alive off rock and sea, shimmering, sky intense blue, boat plunging in a throbbing sexual rhythm, all her cells scintillating to old Sol’s radiation. Radiance. She suddenly groks why those ancient rubes worshipped the sun. It’s real here. Surreality. And Leeza’s the camera eye, nerve-ends tingling and soaking it in, storing it all to replay forever in the Link.
“Look!” His hand grasps her shoulder.
“Hey! Watch the groping.”
He points his chin forward, grins.
She frowns and looks down. “Madre!”
Dolphins. Leaping alongside the bow of the boat, plunging right up and down in the frothing wake. A dark eye gleams, and Leeza swears the creature’s grinning up at her. Reflexes whip the camera to her eye, and she’s got them, two at once arching clean clear out of the sea in perfect slippery curves. Forever. She lowers the camera, sighing.
Mitchell laughs. “Dolphins are good luck around here. Go on down. Hang on.”
She remembers her pose then, gives him the frosty stare, but he just waves her on, grinning like an idiot. She grabs her gear, gets it down that ladder and stashed in the cabin, gropes forward gripping the rail, and they’re still there.
One of them leaps up, so close she can almost touch that sleek back, and she’s laughing, leaning half over the rail, hanging on as the spray soaks her and the boat crashes up and down, racing those beautiful sea creatures dancing the sea and the air. Trying to touch them she nearly loses it takes a header into the sea but who cares she’s alive what a rush what a RUSH!
A last leap and plunge, and the dolphins are gone into the deeps. Leeza reels back from the bow, dizzy, arms out to the sky, slips and plops right onto her butt on the deck. She’s still laughing. She shakes her drenched hair back and squints up. Mitchell’s laughing, too, up on the platform, throwing his head back in a real belly-shaker. Laughing at Leeza Conreid? Oh, no, with her. Yeah, right, what a crock.
Leeza jerked to her slippery feet, grabbed the rail, flipped him the bird and stalked into the cabin. Shit. She had a job to do. Her butt really hanging out here, if she didn’t get at least an interview. Corporate talking cutbacks, axing her show. Dead in the water. She shuddered, glancing at the big rifle on its hooks above her. That missile launcher on the back of the boat, she’d sneaked a peek under the tarp. And maybe a patrol boat after them. Maybe really dead in the water . . .
No. That was Mitchell’s job, she was paying him to worry. Delegate. Focus.
She had homework to do. Keep her indexes up-to-date, Madre she was getting some prime material here. The scenery, the scene. Incredible. Maybe another feature, mysteries of the lost islands, the magic dolphins, Atlantis and all that shit . . . They might go for it, the mystical angle, fit with the Doomsday hysteria, she could really pull out the stops, stretch the stylistic envelope.
Gear strapped down on the galley bench, neuro leads connected, scanning goggles on. Fingertips on the control spindle, she’s flying down the Link into indexed storage:
***“. . . we’re crossing borders without benefit of passport. Boat and captain have seen better days in the battles of Sinai and—”
“Can that crap!” Mitchell jerks forward over the deck, square-cut tan face scowling down, dark beard stubble, que macho for little Leeza’s camera as his ham hand thrusts out and the scene goes dark***
Behind the goggles, she grins. Gotcha double, Stiff. She can’t believe the nondigerati sometimes, so clueless. All she had to do was transfer the stolen bits to storage, replay him the blank, with a neurotweak thrown in since he’s being such a jerk.
She skipped back to the jet sequence she’d thrown at him, rode it for fun down the boiling clouds and jagged lightning, thinking maybe she could clip a few bites for intro on the Ariadne feature, state of the world catastrophe, etcetera. Newsstims the latest candy for the disaster junkies: “Live it in the Link.” Not that Leeza bought the Doomsday scenarios, eco-disasters and the projections of RP-Hansen’s cascading fatalities, cost of the leper isolation camps on top of all the other economic meltdowns and the electrosmog impacts—blah, blah, blah. There was always a crisis. Just part of the media hype, crazy circus watching the scientists scrambling for fixes. And all the military boyz—situation normal—just wanted to build a bigger penis.
But the Ariadne story, they’d sit up and pay attention. The ticket up for Leeza Conreid. “Celebrity fluff”—hah! She could cut it in the trenches. Lips pressed tight, she scanned what little she’d dug out of archives.
Quick series of still-shots: Hazy Greek crowd, the big cheese Tyrannos Demodakis raising a hand—handsome dark hard face and max intense eyes—and behind him, just turning away, glimpse of a black-haired young woman, face averted.
And the old one—boarding-school portrait, anonymous rows and that one young face, eyes focused beyond the camera. Amplifying, computer-augmenting and bringing it close on the Link, Leeza’s skill morphs the face into something ageless, beautiful, carved marble goddess in a lost temple gazing into eternity. Capturing the image, she can almost make those opaque eyes meet hers, open their secret gates—
Leeza bit down on her lip, tasted blood, and shook her head sharply. She gripped the spindle, leapfrogging into more newsstims:
***Tall redhead in a polyply toga holding a big chunk of rock crystal on the shores of the new Death Valley Sea, disciples chanting odes to Mother Gaea. She raises the crystal flashing in the sun, intones, “Hear us, Great Mother. Heal us. Bring us your daughter Ariadne to teach us the way. . . .” ***
*** Crone face under a dark kerchief, seamed and sunbaked to brown leather, nodding and smiling gap-toothed. She babbles in Greek, and the pretty young man with the mike turns to the camera, translating, “When we brought Stelios to her, he was dying of the evil curse—” He coughs. “That is, Rapid-Proliferating Hansen’s, the so-called RIP leprosy. She says that Saint Ariadne touched him and he was cured.”
Behind him, the old woman gestures emphatically, babbling again. The reporter frowns, translates, “The water. She blessed the holy water with her sacred stone and he drank it and the scales peeled from his eyes and face.”
Closeup of the earnest reporter. “Another story of the mysterious recoveries that have triggered more cult demonstrations. The ecoterrorist Corybantes, too, have sworn to enlist Ariadne, and have reportedly made a kidnapping attempt. They must beat the Sons of the Prophet: Fatwa, a death sentence, is declared against the blasphemer Ariadne Demodakis. . . .”***
Leeza jacked out of the Link and pulled off the goggles. She stared out the window over the restless sea as her hands tightened into fists, nails digging into her palms. Out there, somewhere. Ariadne.
Cool blue rippled over shadowed deeps. Monsters down there, nightmares, old fear failure death swimming up to grab her Madre no good thinking why what if she was fucked forever. No. She had to find her—
The boat lurched over the choppy waves, swung in a tight curve around some jagged rocks, and they were shooting for the open sea past another little island. Leeza grabbed the table for balance.
A sudden roaring in her ears—crashing, echoing. Not the engines. Guns. Bullets. Where? Exploding, splintering the sea across the bow. Leeza screamed and dove under the table.
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