Deckard relaxed and let the current carry him.
Exhaling, bubbles escaped from around the air regulator he held in his mouth. The kelp was swept back, nearly horizontal with the sandy bottom in the strong current. His muscles were relaxed as he hung suspended in the clear blue water. Above him, ripples of yellow sunlight glimmered and cast shadows in the shallow water.
He swam underwater through the channel between two small islands. As the ocean forced itself through the channel, it created an extremely swift current. At times it was like being in a liquid treadmill as Deckard kicked with his fins but made no forward progress. Having SCUBA dived all the way upstream to the edge of the islands, he now relaxed and let the current carry him back.
The water between the two islands was shallow, maybe twenty five feet deep but with visibility that went out one hundred feet in any given direction. Now he was slowly sinking towards the bottom. Just beneath him, sand and shattered sea shells were blown with the current like tumbleweed in the desert. He inhaled, filling his lungs with oxygen. The added buoyancy was just enough for him to pop back up and rise above the sandy surface.
Small fish darted around looking for food but there was little to be found. They were fighting the current as Deckard had been, but were somewhat better suited for it.
The ocean blasted him back in the direction he had come, a half hour of swimming upstream was now a four-minute trip downstream as the horizons stayed neutral and the ocean bottom raced by below him.
Finally, he was alone.
Ten minutes later, he surfaced above the choppy waves. The wind was coming in strong, so Deckard kept his regulator in his mouth as he bobbed on the surface and kicked his way to the shore. Once he could touch the bottom, he took off his fins and snorkel, then walked in to the beach.
“How was the dive?” Nadeesha asked as she sat up and cupped her hands over her eyes to protect them from the sun.
“Good. Strong current down there today,” Deckard answered as he set down his oxygen tank and began stripping out of his wetsuit.
Nadeesha, meanwhile, was completely naked as she had been sunning herself on the beach. The catamaran they had rented was rocking in the ocean one hundred meters out where they had anchored it. Gabriel Island was uninhabited, and being about eight miles off the coast of Mauritius, it seemed they had the entire island to themselves.
Deckard set his dive gear aside and sat down as the wind blew her hair in his face. Looking at her naked body, she was already the darkest shade of bronze imaginable.
“I don’t know why you feel the need to tan, Nadeesha,” he said.
“Call me Nadi. All my friends do.”
“The guys on the team don’t call you Nadi.”
“They are not my friends.”
“But I am?”
Her wide smile contrasted her dark complexion with her white teeth.
“Better than that,” she said as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down on top of her. Nadi held him close, pressing her breasts into Deckard’s bare chest. They kissed deeply, forgetting completely where or when they were.
When he pulled away, Nadi bit her upper lip.
“I think you’re a little excited.”
“Just a little.”
She laughed at that.
“I wanted to ask you,” Deckard began. “Southern India?”
“No,” she laughed again. “Sri Lanka.”
“I was afraid I would make a real ass out of myself and you would say Kansas City.”
“No, I grew up in Sri Lanka. My dad owned the largest bottled water import business on the island. That, and his political connections with the Sri Lankan government, helped us immigrate to the US when I was a teenager. Eventually we got dual citizenship.”
“What does he think of your career decision? I imagine he wanted you to go to college.”
Her eyes turned hard as she looked up at him. They were still in each other’s arms.
“Who cares what he thinks. I haven’t talked to my family in years. He had decided that we would go to American schools. I was to go to med school and my brother would major in engineering.”
“I was recruited.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was an athlete, even back then. Ran triathlons in college. Near the end of my sophomore year, someone took an interest in me because of the triathlons, but mostly because of my background and language ability. I did well on the tests the military gave, so I went into intel and then JSOC brought me in to work for them.”
“The special cell they have?”
“That’s the one. Not many women were qualified for the type of work we did, and of those that were, the others were white bread American girls except for me and one Puerto Rican girl. It was a very small group and we were pretty close. You know Special Operations. It’s a sausage fest.”
Now it was Deckard’s turn to laugh.
“Yeah, we can be kind of sophomoric.”
“Want to see my dive watch?”
Nadi sighed. “Is that the one where you pull your dick around your wrist and go around showing it to girls in the bar?”
“It’s a classic. They were pretty hard on you?”
“Most guys we worked with were professional, but you still get the haters, the doubters, the people who resent you just for being there. That was an additional issue we had to deal with on top of our normal job. Besides that, they kept us deployed constantly. Seemed like eleven months out of the year we were overseas. Back-to-back deployments with no end in sight. We all kept going on them because we didn’t want anyone to see us fail. A lot of the men already thought we were doomed to implode.”
“You had something to prove.”
“The same as any man in Special Operations, but some people couldn’t see that. I got sent all over the world. They trained me as a marksman so I could infiltrate into areas and do overwatch. Sometimes I’d have to pretend to seduce some terrorist asshole in London or Bogota and then install some software on his computer. A lot of that type of thing.”
“They were right. We imploded. Not because we were incompetent, but because JSOC ran roughshod right over us. There were only a half dozen of us girls, and they would send us on back-to-back deployments without any time to decompress. They used and abused us until the inevitable happened. My best friend, Jennifer, she killed herself. Another girl was trying to have a baby with her husband, and after her third miscarriage she had a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized. Lauren got into drugs and alcohol. But nobody would throw in the towel or speak up because we knew what kind of political pressure our cell was under. Everyone wanted us to fail, but simultaneously needed us to go places and do things that the operators couldn’t. I was the first to take the plunge. The writing was on the wall, so I got out while I still could.”
“And came to work for Liquid Sky?”
A cloud passed in front of the sun and cast a shadow on the couple as they lay on the beach. Nadi was now able to open her eyes wider as she looked up at Deckard.
“I tried to go back to school, tried some other jobs, but I just wasn’t the same person as that nineteen year old girl that got cherry-picked out of college. They changed me. The war changed all of us, Deckard, even you.”
“I wouldn’t do this job if I didn’t enjoy it.”
“You enjoy your job, not theirs.”
“I guess my motivations have always been kind of selfish.”
“You’re a fucking boy scout, Deckard, an obsolete joke that should have died storming the beaches at Normandy or some such shit.”
“Get real. No one gives a fuck about America anymore and the more loudly they talk about their patriotism the more full of shit they are. Why don’t we do our own thing. Literally sail away in that boat right over there,” Nadi said as she nodded towards the catamaran. “We could open our own intelligence consulting business. Travel around the world as a couple. I know from my previous work that the intel community has a huge market for that sort of thing. We could go places with that cover that others couldn’t.”
“You willing to put this whole Liquid Sky thing behind you?”
“I was ready a year ago. Now you’ve given me a reason.”
“I’m a soldier, not a spy.”
“You can’t be a soldier forever,” Nadi pulled him back down until her lips were just a few inches from his. “But together we could pull purse strings and puppet strings until we’re eating applesauce and shitting ourselves in a nursing home somewhere.”
“How romantic,” Deckard said dryly.
“I think you’ll warm to the idea.”
Nadi smiled and kissed him again.
Deckard returned the kiss, knowing that one of them was destined to kill the other.