Puerto Rico, Space Island
just off the south coast
"So, now you can go home and tell Mom everything is all right." Sylvia was all tooth-brushed and pajama’d as she sat down on her apartment’s living-room sofa.
"No, I can’t leave until the arraignments tomorrow. Even if the perps do skip bail you still have to get through your trial. Mom would never forgive me if I abandoned you." Her brother was already lounging in an easy chair, channel-surfacing the silenced TV.
He grinned. "Besides, I’ve got all this vacation coming and I already have an excuse to use it."
"Fine. I could use the moral support. And it’s so hard to get time to spend with you nowadays. But I do have to work."
"Fine. I can amuse myself. Get to know more about dolphins. See if that cute lifeguard has some spare time."
"Prinny is pretty knowledgeable about dolphins and is their friend besides. But that lifeguard is a tough Argentine space pilot off the beach. She just may chew you up and spit you out."
He grinned again. "As long as she chews the right things."
Work for Sylvia the next day began with a summons to a "fact-finding" meeting with management. Which was really an excuse to give her an official reprimand for unbecoming conduct, fine of a week’s pay, and the preparation of a press release which let the world know that their unruly employee had been severely punished. Sylvia offered to resign for the good of the company if it was felt that was the proper course and was informed that was not necessary — this time.
Her boss had attended the meeting as an observer and a partisan, if she had needed it. She had coffee afterward with him in the company cafeteria. Lunch time was a couple of hours off and they shared the big high-ceilinged room with only a few dozen scattered people.
"There was no way they were going to kick you out for this. Though they might the next time something like this happens. You came across as the good guy this time. And the publicity is good for the company, since that is so."
He took a sip of his coffee. "Also, remember we are an Argentine company. What happens here doesn’t get a lot of interest from porteńos." That term was what people of Buenos Aires, the biggest city in Argentina, called themselves. It had a large and thriving port.
"Still, it might be best if you lay low until this blows over." They proceeded to arrange for her to do that and still keep up the slight duties she had in his department.
When she recounted the meeting with management to her brother Rickie said, "So privately they don’t care one way or the other about your fight, but to cover their asses they publicly have to disapprove. And you get an unpaid vacation. Is that a problem?"
"No. Even if they fired me I still have several incomes."
"And meanwhile you can spend more time with me!"
So for most of the week Sylvia spent time with her brother and with Prinny and working with the dolphins, though she had to do that in her airform. The dolphins still recognized her as Shark Eater and treated her with the proper respect. They thus give their fullest cooperation to her and Prinny and their work with the dolphinese translator.
Rickie and Miranda spent a lot of time together. Sylvia ruefully decided that even with her great knowledge of biology that she did not understand the relationship of the two.
On Friday morning she got a phone call from one of her contacts in the Ponce fishing community. She had gotten several from them throughout the week letting her know the brothers were stocking up on supplies for a long voyage. This time, however, they were bringing aboard possessions from the apartments they had rented, such as a big-screen TV. The brothers seemed ready to jump bail rather than leave for their daily fishing trip.
Sylvia made excuses to Prinny and Rickie, made sure the superbattery in her premium go-board was fully charged, and took off to the west into the sea at a leisurely pace.
Out of view by those on the island she throttled up the water jet underneath the rear of the board. The board lifted up out of the water, hydroplaning. At the same time she kicked in the SuperSlider option. This forced air out of pores in the bottom of the boat, making even the small amount of surface there very slick. The board seemed to explode out of the water and turn into a rocket.
The dolphin-killing brothers might be headed to the Dominican Republic, directly to the west of Puerto Rico. Or to Haiti, on the western end of the island shared by the Republic. Or to Jamaica or Cuba, the islands even further to the west. But before they got very far Sylvia wanted to have a talk with them.
She aimed for the area where she was most likely to intercept their boat. Meanwhile she attempted to craft an airform with the outward appearance of her shallow-water seaform. This would allow her to talk but still swim with ultra-human ability. And to look horribly scary.
This new form was not one natural to her. Her airform was her own original body, though improved in many ways such as extra-human strength. Her seaforms were two variations of some natural creature not (she guessed) native to Earth. She could consciously switch to a seaform, or her body would automatically switch to it if, for instance, she began to drown.
But so far she had gained only a small amount of control of seaform specifics such as claws and claw-length. The very complex biology of water breathing and air breathing was out of her control. Now she struggled to gain control while rushing over the waves.
Slowly, with false starts and jerky progress, she managed. Her skin turned slate grey and slick. Her hands grew claws and webs. So did her feet. Her skull grew longer from front to back and her nose diminished to slits. Her hair shrank and melted away. Her brow ridges grew and grew harder. Her breasts disappeared and her crotch became completely smooth. But inside she remained largely human, unable to effortlessly take the rapid changes in pressure between extreme depths.
Luckily for her she would not need that facility.
Ahead. To her left. Just coming over the horizon. A sliver of white, then more. It was the control cabin of … yes, the brothers’ big fishing boat.
Sylvia throttled back the engine, cut the SuperSlider effect, slowed. Her go-board sank back to its usual low-speed two-inch depth. And, good, she still had seventy percent of the battery’s charge.
Slowly she approached the boat, first sitting, then lying on the board to keep her profile low. Finally she turned of the motor, unclipped her ankle tether, and slipped into the water. She began to swim, her eyes zoomed to their limit of about three times magnification.
Two of the fishermen were in the control cabin, looking forward. The other two must be below. Approaching from the rear it was unlikely she would be seen. Even if they looked backward only her grey-skinned head was above the surface and it would likely blend in with the water. Especially so since there was an out-of-season tropical depression behind her which was piling up grey clouds in the sky and kicking up waves with its winds.
Finally she reached the boat and maneuvered around to the ladder fixed to one side of the craft. She sped up her metabolism and time seemed to slow. She went up the ladder and across the deck so fast it seemed fast to her even in slow time. She was nearly to the large control cabin near the front of the boat when one of the men looked around.
He shouted and bent to grab at something invisible below the bottom of the row of windows in the nearest side. She was rounding the open doorway into the cabin by the time he unbent with a rifle in his hands. He had only begun to turn himself and the weapon toward her when she grabbed its barrel and jerked.
He screamed as his finger came out of the trigger guard, perhaps breaking. The sea monster threw the rifle underhanded out of the cabin far into the sea and grabbed the two men by their throats. The unhurt one stabbed her in the belly with a knife, or tried to. The knife turned in his hand when the blade hit her tough skin and gashed him.
She lifted both men on their tip toes and shook them, gently for her. Then she let them down onto the flats of their feet and relaxed her grip to let them breathe.
Their frightened gaze took in the grey unhuman face barely a foot from their faces, taking in its slitted nose and reddened eyes under their heavy brow ridges. She opened her lipless mouth enough to let them see her fangs.
"Call the other two up," she said in English. "Do not try to warn them or I will tear your throat out."
The smell of feces from at least one of them rose to her nose. She released the throat of the one who’d had his hands on the steering wheel enough to let him speak.
He coughed, swallowed.
"Aksel! Jenson! Come up quick!" At least that’s what she thought he said. His voice was in a language foreign to her, perhaps Danish.
Moments latter there came a clatter from the stairwell to the rear of the cabin. Sylvia pushed the two men toward the two high chairs they had vacated. One sat. One leaned on it cradling his hurt hand.
The sea monster moved around so that she was behind the two men as they came out of the stairs.
One of the men said something in a questioning tone. The other, seeing the first two men looking upset, turned quickly to see Sylvia. He shouted and tried to plunge below but she was between him and the stairs in an instant. He backed up hurriedly.
The other turned to see her and quickly joined the other men at the front of the cabin, looking at her in great fright.
She did not advance toward them. She was remembering.
When she had killed the three crewmen who had kidnapped Prinny she was only thirty or forty minutes away from taking her to the Ponce hospital. She had still vividly remembered the teen’s pale face and her eyes closed in concussive coma. And it was still fresh in her mind that the men and their dead gang boss were going to sell the girl into a sex slavery ring, to be tortured and raped and taught to be a prostitute. Her heart had been twisted in grief and rage. She had been eager to kill the men.
She had been quick with the first two, stabbing them through an eye with a clawed index finger. There had still been enough time for the last man to realize what was happening and run from her weeping in fear and for the loss of his friends.
Sylvia had only needed a few quick steps to catch him and plunge a claw through the back of his skull into his brain. Her claw had made a quiet chunking sound like thumping a melon.
That sound and the sound of his weeping had haunted her for weeks.
These four men had done something just as cruel as the kidnappers had intended to do. They had killed Oberon horribly and tried to kill Miranda. The father and daughter dolphins were people to the sea monster as surely as any humans. Sylvia had restrained herself from slaughtering the brothers when she had fought them in the restaurant only because she wanted them to suffer longer. And there would have been witnesses.
There were no witnesses here. With the tropical depression ramping up toward a possible out-of-season hurricane no one would think it strange if these men, killed and their boat scuttled, disappeared.
But she didn’t want to kill them. Her hate had not lessened, but it had cooled.
Sylvia thought a moment longer, then let time catch up to her. She spoke, her voice unhumanly harsh and hissing slightly.
"You have angered the sea god. You have killed his favored children. You will be punished."
"But they were stealing our fish!" said the brother who seemed to be their captain.
"You lie. They have no need to steal. They were being friendly. Do you not know that the children of the sea bring good luck? You turned your luck bad."
The man with the hurt hand released it with his good hand and used it to point at the youngest brother.
"He thought it would be fun! And you —" He turned his gaze on the captain. "— you let him!"
The captain began shouting at him in their birth tongue. He answered back. Another brother, the next oldest to the captain began to berate the captain too.
For a minute the monster watched the three speakers, then turned a blood-red gaze on the youngest. He stared back at her. She ran her tongue over her almost lipless upper lip. He turned pale, swayed on his feet, almost fainted.
The shouters shut up. For a moment. Then the captain began to plead with her in his birth tongue. She turned a stony gaze on him and let him speak. Then she made an abrupt gesture which shut him up.
"You must never harm the sea god’s children again. If you do he will not be merciful a second time."
He began to talk over her, perhaps thanking her. She shut him up a second time.
"I will put a hole in your boat. Perhaps you will make it to shore. Perhaps the sea god’s storm will let you. Perhaps not. It will be FUN to watch."
She went to slow time and in a few steps was out the door. On deck she crouched and spring up and out, entering the water with hardly a splash.
Underneath the water was grey from the approaching storm. As her body shifted to underwater breathing she searched in the shadow of the boat till she found what might be a good spot. The fingers of one clawed hand bit into the metal enough to give her a good purchase. She drew back the other hand and plunged her bunched claws like a wedge into the boat bottom, opening a fist-sized hole.
Water rushed into the hole, forcing air out of it in a great puff then a diminishing stream of smaller bubbles. She had opened an entry into a false bottom made as a buffer against just such a penetration.
She jack-knifed and sped downward and back toward her go-board. Behind her the boat would be in distress but it was unlikely to founder. But the brothers would have to spend anguish and time and money to get to port and to fix the damage to their vessel.
Would her warning not to harm dolphins protect those the brothers came across? She thought so but she did not know. Fear was not a perfect motivator.
But it had been all she had, if she were not to kill them. It would have to be enough.
Sylvia turned her attention away from the brothers, toward her board. Her esoteric underwater sense extended.
Yes. There it was, a mile or two ahead of her and a bit to one side. The wind above the water was pushing it north and west. She altered course toward it.
Her thoughts turned toward the sex slavers whom she sought. Her anger toward them had changed, as it had toward the brothers. It was as strong as ever, but cold now. In her last contact with the brothers the last fire of her hatred for those who had kidnapped and killed her had slipped unnoticed away.
Sex slavery was a disease of humanity’s body. It could not be eradicated totally, any more than disease could be totally eradicated from an ordinary human’s body. Every day every healthy person’s body was fighting a battle with disease so successful it was not even noticed.
That would be Sylvia’s role, to find and kill the worst disease clusters of humanity’s body.
Suddenly the sea monster was impatient. She surfaced and began to swim smoothly and rapidly. Reaching her go-board she flopped prone onto it. Then she triggered the water jet and the SuperSlider option, slewed the board around, and aimed herself like an arrow toward Space Island and the slavers beyond it.