Taverna Georgios. Smoke and drunken splashes of light from antique neon signs washed over dim faces and scratched plastic tabletops. The insistent beat of bouzouki, Greek sailors on weekend leave dancing and tossing plates onto the floor. Peter and his drinking buddy Chen laughed as off-duty barmaid Viv shouted dirty jokes over the ruckus.
“—didn’t tell him he got the wrong end.”
Peter groaned. “Jesus, where do you dredge them up?”
“She’s an Amazon.” Chen raised his glass to her.
Viv punched him. “Lay off that.”
Chen reached over to lift the crystal pendant hanging above her cleavage, turning it to display the little plasticized portrait of Saint Ariadne, the trendy new Gaea Incarnate who was supposedly healing RIP-leprosy by laying on hands. Could have been any young Greek girl—braided dark hair, straight nose, level brows over wide-set eyes. Nobody had recent photos, so maybe she was just an urban myth, like the scattered “sightings” and miracle cures.
Chen swung the pendant. “So why the denials? Isn’t that what your Corybantes want—blow all us male pigs off the face of Gaea?”
“They’re not my anything! They’re a bunch of extremists.” Viv yanked the chain from his fingers. “I told you, those Corybantes aren’t the same as Gaea Speaks. We want to use Gaea power to heal, not kill.”
“So you say Gaea speaks? Maybe you do better to listen.” It was Georgios, lips quirking behind his droopy mustache as he whisked away the empty ouzo bottle and plunked down a fresh one. “Listen, this land, she gives us every kind of death and destruction. For centuries. You do not cure her. You endure her angers, as always.”
Viv stiffened. “Oh, so it’s her fault! You think the earth wants these Alpha-male assholes with their bombs and germ warfare and ozone depletion and—”
“Remember the old tales.” Georgios gave one of those expansive Greek shrugs. “The Furies were women.”
He sauntered off as Viv spluttered, “That’s the same old macho crap! World-hating, woman-hating male culture and technology destroying the natural order.” She was quoting from some Goddess bible now. “Ariadne will never come out of seclusion to lead us if we swallow the same old patriarchal bullshit—”
“Hey. Drink up.” Peter grabbed the bottle and sloshed more ouzo into the glasses. Last thing he needed was another goddamn sermon, heard enough as a kid to last a dozen lifetimes.
“Well, if it ain’t Sir Galahad!” Now it was Crista, snapping a wad of bubblegum and nudging the other hooker with her, both barely-dressed in the ripped satin babydolls all the rage in the redlight district.
The other girl giggled, under the makeup and bleach another fourteen-year-old refugee.
Crista winked. “Come on, Mitchell, give you a discount.”
Peter just shook his head. They headed off to troll the sailors, heads together, Crista whispering and her friend laughing.
Viv smirked. “Hey, Mitchell, she’s the one—?”
Chen elbowed her and pushed the ouzo bottle at Peter, who scowled and poured. Big barrel of laughs. So he’d tried to “save” the little snot from her pimp who’d given her a black eye, back when he’d first arrived in Piraeus. Story just wouldn’t lie down and die.
Peter tossed back a shot and poured again. “Yia sas.” Bottoms up—which come to think of it was the perfect conclusion all round: The girls. The drinks. The North and South Pole flags. He shoved the Pai-gow dice at Chen, and soon the second bottle was ebbing to the point where the sailors’ dance on the broken dishes looked like fun.
A ripple of louder excitement washed through the dancers. The ripple wove its way past the hooting sailors to Peter’s side, planted spike heels, and tossed back a short fringe of platinum blond. “You Peter Mitchell?”
He didn’t know her—definitely not a local gal—but the face and voice were somehow familiar. And those narrow eyes, glitters of oddly pale azure.
Viv gasped. “But . . . you’re Leeza Conreid! Celebrity Smackback. We get it almost on schedule over Athens Cable.”
“The producers will be thrilled to hear it.”
“Yeah, catching shows got dicey when wireless crapped out with all the geomag static. It’s cable now, or chip download.”
The stranger lifted an eyebrow. “You’re wired?”
Viv shuddered. “No implants in this bod, Bless Goddess.”
Ms. Conreid rolled her Siamese-cat eyes. “NeoLuddite?”
“No, Gaea Speaks. We’re—”
“Yesterday’s news, dolly.” The gal reached down to snag Viv’s crystal pendant, studying its Ariadne icon. Her nostrils flared and her jaw clenched, then she was dropping the talisman with a dismissive flick of her blood-red fingernails. “D’you mind? I’ve got business with Mr. Mitchell.”
Chen, grinning, tugged Viv away into the smoke haze as the Conreid gal appropriated a chair. She was all skin-hugging black leathers and studs and big spiked bracelets and hair spiked out, too, crimsoned lips and pale pale skin, and it was really a ridiculous getup but maybe she was setting some nostalgia trend. He had to admit he liked it.
So he sat back while she made him her business proposition in a staccato spiel that managed to sound bored while her red-tipped fingers moved from stroking the bottle to running over his biceps. “. . . so all you have to do is get me through the closed Med League border. I’ve got a pass to interview Her Royal Highness Saint Ariadne.” Venom suddenly eating through the cool mask.
Peter sat forward. “You think she really is the Demodakis heiress? I thought they’d denied it.”
“No shit, Sherlock. But I’ve got the inside skinny.”
He rolled his eyes. “It’s a wild goose chase.”
“Yeah, for the golden egg. Don’t you catch the news feeds here in the boondocks? ‘Where is Ariadne? Who is Ariadne?’ Fifty-three percent media saturation with these Savior healer stories. I get the scoop, it takes me up to prime time.”
“Big bucks riding on it, whoever finds her first—look at that cool million the Sons of the Prophet are offering for the privilege of snuffing her. By this point, they don’t care if she’s for real or not.”
“Planning to cash her in?”
“Aren’t you a gem.” She shook her head. “But it’s all ripe for debunking. Maybe she’s not so saintly. . . .” She shrugged. “They said you were the best at slipping through patrols. You in, or not?” Her index finger sidled up his arm, under his rolled-up sleeve as her lips parted for a glimpse of a pink tongue.
Something was off, that venom the only real glimpse under the come-on. A scam? Nobody knew if Ariadne was for real, let alone how to find her. But Conreid had contacts all right. A NeuroLink celebrity, however minor, didn’t just wander into a Piraeus bar and pick up a Peter Mitchell. So what the hell, he had a nice buzz going. And he’d made the connection:
The iceberg-blue eyes, the lanky stalk, the promising pout right here in the flesh. That data chip one of his “relocating” clients had left onboard—a pirated Triple-X reissue from before Ms. Conreid had graduated to the networks, when she’d been just another NeuroPorn actress. “Hot Kitten.”
Now it looked like she wanted to plug him into the picture. He didn’t tell her she could stop talking him into the job. He was going stale, settled into the cozy smuggler’s milk run, Greece-Italy-Spain, throw in a pinch of North Africa. He did tell her fair enough they had the proverbial camel’s chance of getting through the Med League patrols and the Aegean pirates, not to mention he’d heard the Sons were in the area on a purge. Maybe it had to do with those Corybant warrior women blowing up an Arab chem-weapons plant in the name of their “Goddess reincarnate.” But for the kind of gold standard Conreid was talking he wouldn’t mind giving Saint Ariadne the finger, her and her duped devotees—one more holy scam. Ms. Media didn’t need to clinch the deal.
But somehow they ended up at the docks. Grin gone lopsided, he swayed with the bottle and watched her prowl Nereid’s cabin in those skintight black leathers. The crimson talons jittered over his stuff on the built-ins. She snapped her fingers, took the bottle, pushed him through the doorway of his dinky stateroom onto the bunk.
And they’re playing out the scene.
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