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 . . .
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