Puerto Rico, Space Island
just off the south coast
Sylvia Connelly headed straight out toward the oncoming swell, hitting it before it quite began to curl. Even so she sliced through the top and flew out into empty air. Dangerously unstable because the board’s control surfaces lost contact with the water, it was so easy to the sea monster that she thought nothing of it. Not so the owners of two pairs of eyes atop the surf-shack looking on through binoculars.
"Holy shit!" The Aussie rarely cursed.
"Routine for the Everglades Champ." His voice trembled as he let out a breath. "But I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it."
The woman slowly lowered her glasses and watched the retreating figure make a turn so sharp she leaned over almost ninety degrees before bobbing back upright. The figure began to diminish as it paralleled the swell northward further into the ocean.
"I thought you were wrong to pick her. But I couldn’t do that. I’m not sure anyone human can."
He gave her a sharp glance. "We’ve better things to do than make up fairy tales."
She took one last look through her glasses before turning to join him, murmuring to herself. "Maybe this one was already made up."
Sylvia went halfway to the end of the line along which the lost girl most likely had drifted. Then she idled the go-board and slipped into the water. Holding her breath to make it easier not to go into her seaform Sylvia "looked" around with her undersea sense. There were several possibilities but from their size they could have been sharks or dolphins as easily as a human.
Provisionally she eliminated one possibility. It seemed several figures rather than one, and it was the furthest away.
Out of human eyesight Sylvia could use her full unhuman flexibility. She eeled back up on the board and headed for the likeliest possibility. It was a shark, supremely disinterested in the noisy stranger.
The next possibility was another shark, the third a huge bull Mahi-Mahi the size of a small woman.
She submerged again. Again she observed the pod of dolphins. They were much further along, headed for the Playa de Ponce seaport to the northwest.
What were dolphins doing headed toward such polluted busy waters?
Sylvia flowed back up onto the go-board and headed full-blast toward the dolphins.
Fifteen minutes later as she approached them she saw what the dolphins were doing: rescuing yet another wayward marine human. She slowed, slowed further, till she was barely moving along. Two dolphins were nudging the unconscious form of the sixteen-year old along toward contact with her own kind. Several more swam guard duty around them.
"Prinny? Prinny? Can you hear me?"
The girl gave no response. Sylvia slipped the walkie-talkie from its black-leather holster on the survival belt, which she had fastened to the T-bar handle when she’d first gone into the water. It didn’t look waterproof.
She clicked it on and punched the button for the main channel. Her calls brought only static in response. She was too far away and below the horizon from Space Island. She tried all the other buttons and received no response. Until the very last.
"Hello? Hello? This is the fishing boat Marie Carolina. Do you read me? Over."
"Yes. Weakly. But I can understand. Over."
"You say you’ve found some girl? Is this the one the Coast Guard is looking for? Over."
"Yes. Can you help? Or relay to the Guard? Over."
"We’ll do both. Where are you? Over."
"I’m almost directly in line with Space Island and Playa de Ponce. Over."
"OK. We’re coming. Over."
"Wonderful! I’m turning this radio off to save the battery. Over and out."
The next few minutes were quite busy. She eased into the water and approached the girl. The dolphins moved aside except what seemed the largest. Sylvia submerged and went to seaform. Gently the dolphin bumped nose to her forehead, a greeting she knew. Sylvia repeated it harder in answer.
The dolphin — maybe more than one — probed her insides with their sonar, a faintly tingling tickling sensation. She probed them with her distance sense which, however, only "fingered" the dolphin’s outsides and which they seemed not to feel.
Seeming confident that Prinny was in good company the dolphins suddenly turned tail and disappeared to the south.
Sylvia could now take care of Prinny. The girl’s head was far enough out of the water so that her breathing was safe, at least in the gentle swells of the sea here. Sylvia was unhappy that the girl was unconscious and sunburned. Her breathing seemed good, her heartbeat steady but faster than Sylvia liked. There was a darkened bump on her forehead which likely was the cause of her unconsciousness. A concussion was not good.
For an instant only Sylvia considered getting Prinny out of the water onto the board. The water was cool but not badly so and, though the day above water was approaching hot, wind would quickly cool the girl by, perhaps, too much.
She converted back to airform and lay along the go-board, arms around the girl, her head next to Prinny and her micro-medusa hair cast over the girl’s face and as much of her shoulders as Sylvia could reach it.
It seemed like forever but was more like fifteen minutes before she heard the sound of marine engines approaching. Relief washed over her. She raised herself to a kneeling and then standing position and began to wave.
The boat changed course and approached. Closer up it seemed more like a tour-fishing boat rather than a commercial fishing craft. The control cabin contained one man guiding the craft. Three other men stood in the bow looking at her and Prinny. Two looked like crew. The last was dressed in a blue light-weight suit with a red shirt. His hair was slicked back and he wore a tiny mustache.
Uneasiness quivered in her. They just stood looking at the two females, eyes probing their figures. They were speaking to each other and she turned her ears sensitivity up all the way. She could just make out an occasional word over the motor sounds and wind.
"…virgin?…two for one…bigger looks…worth it…"
Then the suited man threw his cigarette away and clapped his hands. "Get to it! These poor girls … help … aboard!"
The two crewmen quickly came forward to the very edge of the bow as the boat slowed and stopped almost dead in the water. They leaned down and took Prinny’s shoulders and hauled her up into the boat. They were none too gentle and Sylvia opened her mouth to say something. She was forestalled by the suited man reprimanding them and bending down over Prinny, calling for something. One of the crewmen hurried away and brought back a robe and pillows. The two crewmen bent down to care for the girl. Or so it seemed; from her angle Sylvia could not be sure.
Meanwhile the suited man had turned to Sylvia. "Come, let’s get you aboard. I’ll give you a hand." He gestured to the ledge that ran all the way along the side and a metal ladder that ran from below the water line up across the ledge.
"Help me with the go-board."
"Oh, we don’t need that. We might hurt ourselves getting it aboard."
She stared at him. Damned if she hadn’t again come across someone willing to sell women into whoredom.
His face turned red. The man jerked a gun from under his coat. He wasn’t much of a gunslinger. Sylvia had plenty of time to upend herself into the water. As she arrowed down and under the boat she heard the thud of pistol shots muffled by water and the ZZZiiizzzzs of bullets through the water.
As she curved back up she cursed herself for her quick reaction. All she had had to do was say "Oh please don’t hurt me good sir I’ll do anything you say" and she could have been aboard close enough to rip him limb from limb. Though she had to admit that he might have gotten off some bullets which could have struck Prinny right there on the deck.
Crap, crap, crap.
She turned her senses, visual and esoteric, to inspecting the bottom of the boat as its engines began to growl and push the boat along. There. A pipe. Some kind of rack. A loop of some kind. All possible handholds. She swam to the rack, easily keeping pace with the boat. The rack’s edges were a bit too sharp to comfortably hold for a long trip, even for her tough hands. The pipe was hot. The loop would serve well enough.
Breathing water was fine. But it did have some disadvantages. You couldn’t sigh. Or SAY crap, crap, crap.
Though you could certainly think it.
Sylvia quickly got bored with self-recrimination. Much more interesting to speculate.
After her death she had done research on sexual slavery, as opposed to "regular" prostitution. The latter was regrettable but inevitable and the women had at least nominal freedom to quit and take up other work. They were natives of their land and free to go anywhere in it, spoke the language, knew the customs.
Slaves were non-native, unfree, did not speak the language, did not know their way around.
There were a lot of them, 100,000 new ones every year according to one estimate, maybe as many as 250,000 — or more.
Sylvia had no idea how to cure the problem, did not think there was a cure. Though she knew sometimes, very rarely, the near-impossible became possible, so she had not totally given up hope. She just didn’t think she could find the solution.
But she did have a hobby. Find slavers and kill them.
But how to find them? Find out how they got their victims and be around when they tried. As now. Though admittedly this had been blind luck.
This bunch she had caught, and hoped to keep after she got Prinny safely back from them, stayed alert to emergency calls and got to the lost girl before the authorities did. From them she could find the next link in the chain to some "wholesaler."
Another way to kidnap women was to become a bartender and drug girls and have associates take her from there. This had happened to her. She was working that angle, too, so far with no success. But now she had a picture of the bartender she wanted to find. Much easier to go to bars and look for him, or even show the picture around. If that drew attackers to her, fine. If they found her, it saved her the trouble of finding them.
OK. That was two ways kidnappers got their victims. Now, she needed to figure out other ways there might be, which she could use to turn the tables on them….
…the grumbling engines were slowing. Alerted, Sylvia looked about, probed with her underwater distance sense. There were other boats about. And … in a short while docks were about. Her boat passed a number then began to draw near one.
Sylvia dropped away, arrowed ahead and off to the side, found a sheltered place, and slowly increased buoyancy to raise her eyes above water. Raise her head above it.
This dock was in a rather ramshackle area with a lot of small boats and a few larger none-too-new ones. Sheds open at the water-end sheltered boats. A few were closed on both sides, most were not. Her boat was headed toward a closed one.
Checking to be sure she was unobserved Sylvia converted to airform and left the water. She was shapely and wearing only a bikini but her skin was smudged with oil and traces of mud from the water. She’d attract attention but likely be left alone.
And if she weren’t she had all sorts of ways to discourage that attention.
As if she were right at home she walked up to the dock which was her boat’s home, keeping out of sight of that boat. The dock cover was made of grey corrugated iron which had rusted a good deal in some places. The front door was locked and there was a van parked in front of the door just outside. She looked inside it, saw nothing interesting, but the look had also told her no one was watching her.
Not surprisingly. It was noon when sensible people were eating lunch and avoiding the hot sun which baked the concrete of the street and the age-battered sheds and buildings.
She approached the front door, shielded by the van’s body, and twisted the door handle. With a screech and crack the lock broke. She opened the door, stepped inside, closed it gently behind her.
No one was inside, though they soon would be. She could see the boat a hundred yards away curving toward the opening in the shed.
Had any of them seen the flash of the sunlight through the door when she had opened it? Long seconds observing the boat showed no attention being given the dock. The only observing was being done by the pilot and his attention was for his surroundings. The other three men were likely sitting in the shade along with Prinny.
God, she hoped they were sitting. If they’d been raping her —
She had heard them discussing virgins, hadn’t she? Wouldn’t that make her safe? Or would they forego future gain for present pleasure?
For a moment Sylvia came close to losing herself to rage, then she banked the fury for a later time.
She looked around. The ship would enter that opening. The front and sides would be cushioned from the concrete dock by those cut-up rubber truck tires. Lines would be snugged to cleats there and there on the sides of the dock to hold the boat in place. And there was where an on-boat ramp would let them exit the boat onto the dock sides.
The boat was maybe a hundred feet away, definitely lined up with the dock. She moved to the side out of sight of any viewer, making no sudden moves to catch watchers’ attention. Looking into the shadowed dock housing from the bright sunlight outside she’d be only a pale illusion that vanished when they blinked.
Examining her surroundings she found various iron nuts, bolts, and washers. She tucked half a dozen of the nuts into her bikini bottom. Fired from her hands with her inhuman strength they would work as well as pistol bullets, but she wanted to avoid killing any of them, at least until she’d had a chance to interrogate them.
She could hear the engines now and just see the side of the boat coming into view in the bright sunlight. She leaped into the openwork ceiling frame and walked to a good location for ambush.
The boat edged into the deck and drifted further then further in and then fully in. It’s blunt nose struck a rubber bumper, which compressed then rebounded, sending the boat backward. It had gone only a few feet when the two crewmen leaped out and snugged lines to half-a-dozen cleats. These creaked a bit but held. Engines cut and the boat was docked.
The boat’s ramp was run out and it’s far end positioned in a slot on the concrete dock floor. The business-suited man came down it, walking rapidly and saying something furiously about toilet paper. He entered a bathroom and slammed the door angrily behind him.
The two crewmen stood on the side of the dock snickering but holding their hands to their mouths to muffle their laughter. The pilot/captain came out of his small captain shaking his head and came dockside, simply jumping down from the boat side across a couple of feet of water, and saying in a low tone to the two men that someday he’d shoot them.
Sylvia dropped from the ceiling beside the two crewmen, her feet touching down toes/balls/heels/knees compressing with hardly a thump. She seized the two men’s necks and crashed them together quite hard. She cared not at all if she crushed skulls of the two least knowledgeable men.
The captain paid no attention to the soft sounds made by the men’s bodies being laid onto the concrete. He was reaching for a black wall- phone handset when one of Sylvia’s hands clamped around his throat. He grabbed her wrist with both his hands, trying to gasp or gag while she choked him into unconsciousness, his feet lifted inches off the floor to avoid noise as he kicked and jerked until still.
Laying him quietly on the floor she placed two fingers on his throat, nodded to herself when she discovered a pulse.
Her feet did not even whisper on the rough floor as she walked to the bathroom door. She grasped the knob and yanked the door completely off its hinges, letting it fly across the dock to slam into a wall and rebound with a clatter into the water.
Reaching in she grabbed the man on the toilet by his throat and pulled him out of the room, his red pant’s legs trailing around his ankles, his white short-sleeved shirt tails draping his ass. The smell of shit filled the dock.
She did not lift him off his feet. There was no need and she did not want to risk breaking his neck.
"You shouldn’t have shot at me. That pissed me off."
She relaxed her hold on his throat and he gasped for breath, pulling at her fingers with no more luck than if he tried pulling iron bars apart.
"I’m going to let you go. Don’t yell. Sit down and be quiet. Understand?"
He nodded his head, or tried to. She slowly released him and he wilted to the floor.
"Cat lady, don’t kill us!" he whispered. "We didn’t know we were intruding on your territory. Don’t kill us! Please!"
He nodded, trembling.
She reached inside and retrieved his blue suit coat. The gun was in his side pocket. She dropped the coat and looked at the gun. A revolver, the open cylinder ends showed no bullets. She racked open the top-break pistol and also saw no bullets.
"What a piss-poor gunman you are. You didn’t reload?!"
Could an idiot like this know much worthwhile?
"Stay right there and don’t move." She leaped twenty feet to the deck of the ship, throwing the pistol far out into the water as she did so, and alighting near as silently as a cat.
Prinny was sleeping on her side, head on a pillow and body on a quilt. A touch against her neck’s pulse point showed a steady, slow heartbeat and skin normal to the touch, perspiring lightly but not excessively.
Sylvia sighed deeply. Her clothes were still in place and there was no sign of trauma at the crotch. They had not raped her.
She had to be gotten to a hospital, but Sylvia had time to secure the men. She leaped to the dock and went in search of rope. She found braided nylon cord and used it lavishly, not only binding the men but binding them in place so they could not roll somewhere to use a tool on each other’s bindings or their own.
All the while she was doing this the man in the red pants was whispering, "Cat lady we’re sorry. The Org can have this territory. We’ll leave." And other variations. Every time she told him to shut up he did so only for minutes. Finally she gagged him, then the other men.
She took one last look around. The men were immobilized and had no way she could see to get free except to be rescued, which could happen. Nevertheless, she had to get Prinny to the hospital as quickly as she could.
An old pair of white painting coveralls made Sylvia semi-respectable after an extruded claw, its tip narrowed to a razor’s width, sliced off the two legs’ cuffs. Into the voluminous pockets went the men’s wallets and keys, including the ones to the van on the captain’s key chain.
Gently she carried Prinny to the van and arranged her as comfortably as she could on quilts and pillows taken from the small bedroom aboard the boat. The engine started raggedly and Sylvia backed out into the street and headed toward the more respectable part of the city.
Half a mile away she pulled into a gas station and asked for directions to the hospital. Pointed the right way she got there with only two wrong turns and more asking for directions.
The emergency entrance was near a parking lot. Sylvia left the van there and took Prinny swiftly but gently into the medical center.
"This is the girl who was lost at sea. She’s suffering from exposure, exhaustion, and possibly a concussion from falling on a surf-board."
Nurses in light blue uniforms were instantly beside her, carefully lowering the girl onto a gurney. As they wheeled her away another nurse approached her with a clipboard. Sylvia gave her name and address for herself and added what she knew of the girl’s identity.
After claiming she was perfectly fine except "thirsty as Hell and for God’s sake let me get into something decent" Sylvia bought some clothing from the hospital gift shop and neatened herself up, dumping the coveralls in the trash.
She had to repeat her story several times, once to the Coast Guard, who wanted to know who the fishermen were who had taken Sylvia and Prinny into the port. Sylvia gave them fairly accurate descriptions but made no mention of the suit-coated man. She wished they’d told her their names, she said. She wanted to thank them herself.
A newspaper reporter was very interested that dolphins had helped save Prinny’s life, a detail that should divert attention from the heroic fishermen and from herself — mostly. Sylvia knew that the story would make front-page news and include her photo. She was just too photogenic and famous.
When people from Space Island began to show up Sylvia pleaded exhaustion and snuck away. Twenty minutes later she was back at the docks.
The men were still secured. The head gangster, however, was dead. He’d either been murdered so carefully there were no symptoms that she could see despite undressing him and examining him carefully, or had a heart attack. Reluctantly she decided it must be the latter.
The three boatmen knew nothing useful. She ran a claw into their brains and killed them, then took all four men out into deep water and scuttled the boat. Then she took seaform and slept for two days as deep in the ocean as she could go.