New to Quest Five?
The stories are best enjoyed when read in order beginning with May 1, 2009.

Welcome To Quest Five
Allison Beaumont is having trouble finding a job after college until one day the wealthy and powerful Joseph Candle offers her a job at his rather unusual corporation, where mistakes can lead to bare bottomed spankings. Adopting the alias of Virginia West, she joins four highly skilled colleagues, racing around the globe in search of mysterious treasures, but wherever she goes, trouble is sure to follow.
Note: Some stories contain scenes of a sexual nature, corporal punishment, non-consensual corporal punishment, and strong language which some reader's may find offensive. If you feel this material might be inappropriate for you please move on to another blog by clicking the next blog link at the top of the page.

August 28, 2009

Diving In: Deeper And Deeper

I scuba dived for the first time on a summer vacation when I was fifteen. It wasn’t anything special. Two weeks in Hawaii with a cute boy with a tan for which I’d have died, as a tour guide. My heart fluttered every time he looked my way but truth be told he barely knew I existed at the time. That didn’t stop me from fantasizing though nor did it hinder my thereafter interest in the activity. I’d enjoyed the experience so much I enrolled in a class the next summer and skipped the family vacation in favor of diving lessons.

Gearing up to dive in search of Magellan’s medallion reminded me of all the excitement I used to feel when I dived, only this time it was real. Danger or not, I couldn’t help grinning like the teenager I remembered being. With Kyra’s new computer model and the safety precautions we’d put in place I was certain we were going to succeed even though Jack was being less optimistic. There was enough of a twinkle in his eyes to assure me he felt much the same as I did.

Tom cut the engines but didn’t drop the anchor. The plan was for Jack and I to dive and then Tom would keep the boat moving within our search grid. Hopefully anyone watching would think we were just cruising the grid and trying to map the seafloor. If it worked, no one should take any interest in us, if not, well, Jack and I might have to swim a long way.

Kyra handed Jack a forearm band she had specially outfitted with a waterproof display and keypad. He fitted it on his left arm proceeded to peck a quick message into it as a test. The frown on his face told me he wasn’t exactly pleased with it, but the message system was at least working.

“We should keep messages to a minimum. I’ve encrypted the signal but if someone is out there monitoring us they’ll notice it and it won’t take long to trace it into the ocean.” Kyra said.

“Next time trying something with larger keys. I’ll be lucky to type anything meaningful between the water distortion and my big fingers.” Jack said.

Kyra seemed to be ignoring him as she fiddled with some other equipment before handing it to Jack.

“I’ve set this locator with the coordinates the computer came up with for the medallion. It’ll give you a triangle to point in the direction you need to go and when you are within a yard it will turn to a circle. Proceed until the circle is center display and you’ll be at the proper location.” Kyra explained.

Jack nodded.

“Got it.” He said.

“If you have to surface early or the boat is not in sight when you surface you can push the green button on the side and it will transmit your gps coordinates to my console. You can shut it down by pressing the red button but don’t do that unless you think someone else is using it to track you.” Kyra continued.

“Understood.” Jack said. “Anything else?”

Kyra looked at us both and swept her red hair behind her shoulders and out of the way as she stood up.

“Good luck.” She said.

“Thanks.” I said.

Jack climbed down into the water and I followed right behind him. I would have liked a moment to adjust to the water, but Jack wasn’t waiting. He dived straight away, so with a last look to Kyra I fixed my mouthpiece in place and followed him down.

We spent a half hour before reaching the coordinates but as soon as they were in sight I knew where we were headed. It was a strange coral formation rising up from ocean floor. What made it so special was it appeared like spikes coming up at various angles. The account of Magellan’s death indicated his body had been pierced by multiple spears. It could have been a coincidence, but I wasn’t betting on it.

We were cautious approaching the formation and with good reason. There were eels all around it. They’d obviously made the coral formations there home and getting in close enough to investigate whether it was indeed the remains of Ferdinand Magellan was going to be difficult. Our only possibility was to take our time and avoid startling them or making the feel threatened. Fortunately eels are fairly docile unless provoked.

We held position about a yard out and assessed our options. The formation had clearly developed over a frame and it seemed obvious enough that the strands were indeed spears. The odds were significantly in favor of it being a body which certainly indicated Magellan as a possibility but I wasn’t so foolish as to believe Magellan was the only man to have ever been killed by spears and swept away by the tide in the Philippines. Still it was in the right place, but if it was Magellan then the recent quake activity had done nothing to uncover him. He’d been right there for the finding all along.

The eels didn’t like our lights shining on them and they retreated into the recesses of their coral homes. Jack pointed at my light and then pointed at the formation, indicating he wanted me to keep the light on it. I nodded understanding his plan. He figured if I kept the light shining right, he could get in close enough to investigate.

It took a few minutes but it worked. Jack was able to break off some of the lower coral to reveal what was clearly a human skull. A little more digging with his knife and a reflection from my light nearly blinded us both as it caught a jewel. I had to force myself to remain calm as Jack worked the medallion free.

A quick glance at chronometer revealed we were right on schedule. Jack placed the medallion inside a sealed bag so we didn’t risk any damage to it when we surfaced. A last look at the remains of Magellan and Jack and I pushed our way off the ocean floor heading back to the surface. I wondered if anyone would return to collect Magellan’s remains or if with the medallion collected, anyone would care.

Without warning Jack grabbed my arm, stopping our ascent. I gave him a questioning look and he pointed at his flashing message band. The display was a bright yellow and the letters were all capitals. Although the message was a single word it was clear enough; PIRATES.

We both looked up toward the surface. The shadow of two vessels flickered above us. The smaller shadow undoubtedly belonged to our boat. How they’d been taken over or surprised was a mystery for another time. The situation required us to take action without answers.

I pointed to the space between the ships, but Jack shook his head and held up the gps to me. To say I was surprised he would run instead of fight is an understatement. Our tanks had less than a half hour of oxygen left, reaching shore in that amount time Was frankly impossible, but so was arguing with charades as our only means of communicating. I followed Jack, swimming away from our colleagues.

After ten minutes of swimming, we finally surfaced. The ships were little more than specs in the distance. Wading at the surface I’ve never felt more isolated in my life. Jack shut off his tank and I followed suit, hoping he had more of a plan than swimming away from our troubles.

“There was nothing we could have done.” Jack said.

“We could have tried to help them.” I said.

“The odds were against success and I don’t fancy being a prisoner and losing the medallion to a bunch of thugs.”

“We could hide the medallion and go back.”

“There is too much risk in that. We need to get back to shore.” Jack said.

“We can’t just leave them.” I said.

Jack’s way of handling the situation was beginning to make the hackles on the back of my neck stand to attention. All the circumstances were starting to add up to me in a way that was very unfavorable for Jack Barker. If he was the man he was supposed to be, he’d be more worried about his friends back on that ship than the medallion he was holding. Then there was the fact in our last excursion he’d managed to come out unharmed while Dr. Michaels and Tom hadn’t. Not to mention it was practically a miracle that Kyra and I had survived. Then there was Italy where he was doing everything he could to keep me in the dark.

“I’m not going to abandon them but I’m not going to lead us on a hopeless rescue effort either. Our best course of action is to make it to shore and call in reinforcements.” Jack said.

I wondered if he knew the thoughts running through my head, would I make it to shore? His arguments made a certain amount of sense and he’d done nothing to threaten me. Still, the whole situation felt too much like a betrayal. Without any evidence to prove anything I suspected, I felt I had no choice but to go along with Jack’s plan, albeit cautiously.

“Alright. I don’t like it, but if you really think it’s best, I’m with you.” I said.

Jack attempted a tired smile.

“Thank you.” He said.

I nodded and gestured for him to lead the way. Maybe it was a touch of paranoia but I felt better following him than being followed under the circumstances.

The sun had set and the moon risen before we reached the beach. My arms and legs felt like lead weighted down by cement, but somehow we’d made it. If Jack had wanted me dead he’d certainly had his chance, but instead he kept me going. We crawled out of the tide onto the wet sand and collapsed.

The stars were bright and the sky was clear and black as if an artist had painted the scene above us. Lying flat on my back with arms stretched out to the sides I could still feel the waves of the ocean coursing through my body and it was almost like I was floating above the beach. Jack’s fingers brushed my own fingertips. I looked over to him to find his eyes smiling back at me.

“We made it.” I said.

My voice was hoarse from all the salty water I’d accidentally swallowed.

“You could be a fallen angel.” He said.

His eyes glanced up to the heavens and back down to me as he spoke. I smiled knowing I was anything but a picture of beauty. My hair was tangled in knots I might never undo and the sand was clumping on my wetsuit like mud. If my eyes were any less red than his it would be a miracle. No, truthfully I had to look more like a devil than an angel.

“You can try all the flattery you like but I’m still not going to bed with you.” I said.

Jack chuckled at my reference to the previous evening in his room. Of course his suggestion had been innocent enough, but my thoughts were far from innocent, then and now. I couldn’t tell if Jack had any clue what I was thinking or that there might be a chance for the two of us to be more than colleagues. Maybe it was all in my head and he wasn’t even interested, maybe there was even someone else for him. I told myself I was too tired to ask, but the reality of it had more to do fear of rejection and embarrassment.

I turned away from Jack’s prying eyes and stared once more at the twinkling stars above. My thoughts drifted away from the fantasy of love or lust I was feeling and refocused on our colleagues and their situation somewhere out on the water. A sinister voice in my head insisted on telling me they could already be dead. I didn’t want to hear it though and refused to believe it until there was no other choice. We had to help them, it was as simple as that.

“What now?” I asked.

Jack sat up, cross-legged next to me. He twisted my way and looked down at me with a serious expression and cold eyes. I braced myself to hear bad news.

“We go back to the hotel, get some gear and get you and the medallion on a plane to LA.” Jack said.

I sat up and met his gaze, eye to eye.

“I’m not leaving.” I said.

“You are.”

“Not while the others are still out there.” I said.

“You’re going and that’s final.”

“You can’t make me.”

“Like hell I can’t.” Jack said.

Abruptly he reached and grabbed me. A moment later I was lying face down over his lap. Jack raised his tired arm in the air and slapped it down on my neoprene covered bottom. The noise was horrific which just made the fact I didn’t feel a thing all the more amusing. I laughed.

Jack swung again and again the clap of his hand against my suit made a thunderous clap without producing any of the sting I’ve come to expect from such events.

“You may think this is funny now but you won’t be laughing by the time I’m done.” Jack said.

“Can’t we talk about this?” I asked, between giggles and spanks.

Jack kept increasing his efforts, determined to make an impression and seemingly oblivious to the fact I couldn’t feel a thing.

“Please.”

SMACK!

“Jack.”

SMACK!

“Stop it!”

SMACK! SMACK! SMACK!

“Still think it’s funny?” Jack asked.

The fact I was still giggling should have been sufficient answer to his question but apparently he expected something more. His hand raised again.

SMACK! SMACK! SMACK!

“Okay. Okay. Okay.” I said.

It was obviously too late though. Jack was clearly annoyed with me and kept spanking away until he was too exhausted to lift his arm any more. He pushed me off his lap and I smiled up at him, laying on my side on the sand. I was still laughing a little but not quite as hard. Jack shook his head for a moment and then joined me in the laughter.

His spanking hadn’t managed to do more than raise a very slow heat in my posterior, but it had cut through our tension and relaxed us both. Imagine, spanking for tension therapy. Who’d have thought of that?

“God you’re stubborn.” Jack said.

“Look who’s talking.” I replied.

Jack sighed in exaggerated frustration.

“Okay, maybe I can’t make you right now, but I swear when we both get back to LA, I’m going to repeat this exercise on your bare bottom and I’ll be using a paddle.”

I sighed at his predictable threat.

“Promises, promises.” I said, fluttering my eyelashes.

“You’re incorrigible.” Jack said. “I pity your poor parents. You must have put them through hell.”

“Jack, I don’t mean to buck your authority or make any of this harder than it already is, but it seems to me if we want to survive this, we need to stick together, not split up.” I said.

“Think for a moment. This medallion is important enough to someone that they’d kill to prevent it from being found. Getting it safely away from here might be the only way to guarantee the lives of our friends.” Jack said.

It was right then that I heard Kyra asking me to give Jack a break. Whether or not she agreed with his choice, she’d do what he asked without making a fuss because all things aside, she trusted him. The realization made me wonder when it was that I stopped trusting people entirely.

“Alright. We’ll do it your way.” I said.

Jack stood up and held his hand out to me. I took it and allowed him to help me up.

“Thank you.” He said.

Suddenly I noticed my backside was more than a little hot, it was practically on fire and getting hotter by the second. I reached back to rub and found the wetsuit was just as good at preventing me from easing the burn as it had been in preventing me from feeling the spanks. Apparently the wetsuit had only insulated my bottom from sting of Jack’s hand. The resulting burn was still clearly present although apparently a little delayed in it’s build up.

Noticing my attempt to rub and probably the minor involuntary dance my legs were doing, Jack smiled and laughed.

“Feeling the burn now are we?” Jack asked.

“That’s an understatement.” I replied.

It was difficult to resist the urge to peel my wetsuit off and moon the beach, but I managed to suck it up and not complain. It’s not like it would do me any good anyway. Still, I couldn’t help doing a little bit of a dance as we walked up the path from the beach to the street. Jack walked behind me, no doubt enjoying the view.

Flagging down a taxi was a relatively easy process once we reached the main road. Although we got a raised eyebrow from the driver no doubt for our attire or possibly the way I squirmed on the seat. Take your pick, but you know which way I’m voting. Jack was enjoying his handiwork, evidenced by the twinkle in his eye and the smile on his face. Sadly, for some godforsaken reason, it only made me more attracted to him.

August 25, 2009

Diving In: Murky Waters

It was almost midnight by the time Jack returned to the hotel. Kyra had managed to fall asleep despite my constant pacing. My parents have told me it’s a bad habit and I guess they are probably right. If it didn’t help me think I wouldn’t do it, but it does and I do. I guess I’m not very good at doing what I’m told if it doesn't fit with my own desires.

I joined Jack in the guy’s room, closing the door between our rooms so we could talk without disturbing Kyra. He was as disheveled as I’ve ever seen him. His hair had dried in curly clumps and he obviously hadn’t bothered to try an comb it. The slump in his shoulders told me he was tired and probably not in the mood to talk for long.

“How are they?” I asked.

Jack had taken Tom and Dr. Michaels to an emergency clinic as soon as we’d docked. Neither of them had life threatening injuries but that didn’t mean they weren’t in pain or that I didn’t care.

“They’ll be fine. The doctor wanted Gene to stay overnight and Tom stayed to keep an eye on things.” Jack said.

I nodded, not entirely surprised.

“Did you learn anything about our attackers?” Jack asked.

Kyra and I had spent the rest of the day and well into the night looking for clues. There was a lot not adding up to me and I was pretty certain there were things I didn’t know about Q5 that I definitely needed to know.

“Not much. We found the transmitter the torpedoes were homing in on. It was on starboard hull below the waterline. Could have been placed by anyone.” I said.

“We dived off port. That means it’s unlikely Tom or Gene were involved.” Jack said.

I nodded, having come to the same conclusion hours earlier.

“I’m having a hard time believing anyone of them could be involved.” I said.

Jack tilted his head toward me with a curious expression on his face. I suspect he was surprised at my words.

“You have an alternate theory?” He asked.

“I’m working on one. I don’t have all the information though, do I?” I replied.

Jack huffed and nodded his head a little. It was probably as close to an acknowledgment as I was going get. I wondered if he wasn’t saying anything because he didn’t know or because he still didn’t trust me. Thinking of Mr. Candle, it was probably a bit of both.

“What else did your investigation reveal?” Jack asked.

“The transmitter was manufactured in China. In itself that doesn’t mean much. It could have been purchased anywhere. The ship that attacked us was of Chinese registry though.” I said.

“So the Chinese government is after us?” Jack asked.

I shook my head.

“No, I don’t think so at least. The ship was reported stolen by pirates about two months ago. Kyra confirmed the records and unless they had some advanced warning about the quakes in this region and what they might uncover, it seems rather farfetched they’d be involved.” I said.

“Maybe, maybe not.” Jack said.

I waited for him to explain with a quizzical expression on my face.

“They might have had another purpose for the ship and circumstances might have made it convenient for use here.” Jack said.

“I guess, but I still don’t know if it’s likely.” I said.

“Anything else?” Jack asked.

“Two other teams reported being attacked as well and Kemp’s team has disappeared.”

“Disappeared?”

I nodded.

“Kyra found a 15 minute gap in satellite coverage and during that time their ship disappeared entirely.”

“Sank?”

I shrugged.

“That was my first thought but Kyra doesn’t think so.”

“Based on what?”

“She believed there would be surface water displacement in evidence if it had sank and there was no sign of debris either which would make it hard to explain why it would sink in the first place.”

Jack nodded.

“Any other theories?” Jack asked.

“None worth sharing.” I said.

“If you tell me what you’re thinking I might be able to help you work it out.” Jack said.

“If his ship was also a submarine it would explain a lot.” I said.

Jack chuckled. I blushed, embarrassed by my ridiculous, not to mention impossible, theory.

“I won’t totally discount it, knowing Alex as I do, but you’re right it’s not likely.” Jack said.

“Like I said, it wasn’t really worth mentioning.” I said.

Jack nodded.

“We should go to bed.” Jack said.

The statement caught me off guard and although I’m sure he didn’t mean together, it was the only thought in my head. I could think of worse ways to spend the night. My eyes looked from Jack to the bed and back again. He was looking at me with amusement and I felt my cheeks start to burn as I realized he knew exactly what I was thinking. Lucky for me, neither of us put a voice to the thought.

“I’ll see you in the morning then.” I said.

I backed away from Jack Barker and his bed. My hand found the doorknob back to my own room without the aide of my eyes and I made an attempt at a graceful exit. Jack was gentleman enough to allow me my illusions and other than a weary smile, he refrained from further comment.

I was alone when I woke up. That was nearly a relief after some very vivid and torrent dreams during the night. Jack starred in all of them, but so did Mark. It was rather confusing and frankly, frightening. Kyra had left me a note, she and Jack were downstairs having breakfast. After a quick shower I headed down to join them.

I was walking through the lobby when a voice stopped me dead in tracks.

“Allison!” Mark called.

I turned toward his voice and wondered if I was losing my mind because he was nowhere in sight at first. Then I spotted him standing near a pot of bamboo by the wall. I changed direction and joined him in the semi-secluded spot.

“Mark.” I said. “What are you doing here?”

“Working. Who exactly at Quondam do you work for?” He said.

His voice was quiet, his tone was full of concern. It was disarming and were it not for the recent attack I might have allowed myself to relax, but all things considered, I was suspicious of everything breathing and half the things not. I’m pretty sure it’s not paranoia when they’re shooting torpedoes at you.

“That’s none of your business. Who are you working for?” I replied.

“Look it doesn’t matter. Obviously you are working for one of the people in Quondam’s Q5. They’re a dangerous group. You’ve got no idea what you are into here.”

“Really? Why don’t you tell me.” I said.

Can I help it that his assumption that I couldn’t take care of myself annoyed me? Or, truthfully, it might have been the fact he seemed to have totally discounted the possibility of me being a member of the team in favor of my be subservient to one or more of them. It’s not that I’ve given him any reason to think otherwise but still it’s insulting that he didn’t wonder if I was member even if that did mean I had to have been lying to him.

“For starters someone wants them all dead. I don’t know if you are aware but just yesterday someone tried to kill them all at sea. With torpedoes no less.” Mark said.

“Maybe someone’s just trying to scare them off.” I said.

He gave me an incredulous look.

“You don’t scare people off with torpedoes. You obliterate them from existence.” Mark replied.

“And I suppose what you are doing here is utterly safe?” I asked.

“That’s beside the point. You should quit this job and go home. I’d go with you but I’ve got a couple more days work at least and I can’t afford to skip out on this contract.” He said.

“I’m not quitting my job. They need me here and despite everything I’m starting to enjoy my work.” I said.

“They don’t need you. Something happens to you not a one of them will shed a tear. They’ll just replace you with another young and pretty girl as soon as they get back.”

“It’s not like that.” I protested.

“No, it’s worse. They’re completely insane. From what I’ve heard they don’t even care about their own safety.”

“That’s pushing things to the extreme. They’re good people.” I said, feeling defensive.

“Maybe, but what about this Virginia West I keep hearing stories about. They say she took on a small army with nothing more than a handgun and then yesterday, I hear she drove their boat on a collision course with that Chinese vessel just to avoid one of those torpedoes. She doesn’t sound very stable to me. She sounds reckless and dangerous and just being around someone like that can get you hurt or worse.” Mark said.

I didn’t know what to say. Hearing my alternate identity coming out his lips and the way he painted me out to be some kind of reckless thrill seeker was awkward to say the least. I couldn’t help but wonder what he would say if he knew I was one and the same as this woman he seemed to despise. It was also funny to think he knew as much as he did and hadn’t managed to figure things out a little better.

“Miss West, is everything alright?” Tom asked from behind me.

I glanced behind me to see him with his hand going for his barely concealed gun, just in case. Dr. Michaels was right behind him still looking a little haggard from their ordeal.

“Fine. I think Jack and Kyra are in the restaurant still.” I said.

Tom nodded and then they walked away leaving Mark and I alone again. I could see Tom glancing back just to make sure I was still fine. His concern was touching. Mark on the hand had gone completely pale as he tried to come to terms with what he had just inadvertently learned.

“Your?” Mark asked.

I nodded.

“I don’t understand.” He said.

“It’s complicated, but you can’t tell anyone, especially my brother and my parents.”

“Allison, I’m going to need a lot more than that. You can’t just go around being two different people. It’s crazy.”

“We need to talk, but this isn’t the time or the place. Please just promise me to wait and hear me out before you say anything to anyone?” I asked.

Mark swallowed and studied my face as if he was trying to assess my sanity. I watched him carefully because part of me thought it was unlikely he was learning of my duality for the first time. I hoped I was wrong, but there were too many coincidences and things just weren’t adding up the way they should.

“Alright. As soon as we get back, I want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. Is that a deal?” Mark said.

“Deal.” I said. “Now I have work to do and it’s probably best if we aren’t seen together again while we are here.”

Mark nodded in agreement. I wanted to give him a reassuring kiss but my suspicious nature wouldn’t allow it. Instead I walked away without a look back and hoped he was better than I thought of him at that moment.

I joined the rest of the team in the hotel’s restaurant and sat down to enjoy some breakfast. Food was about the farthest thing from my mind, but I needed something to distract me from Mark. Tom half stood as I sat down and nodded passed me to where Mark was walking out the lobby doors into the morning sunlight.

“Old friend?” Tom asked.

“Something like that.” I said.

“Problem?” Jack asked.

“Nothing I can’t handle.” I said.

“If he’s a danger to you, he’s a danger to all of us.” Jack said.

“He’s not.” I said.

I glared at him for a moment and it was enough to convince him to drop the subject.

“We’ll go back out tomorrow.” Jack said, changing the subject.

“Are you sure that’s wise?” Tom asked.

“Kyra’s working on a few things that should help.” Jack said.

He gestured toward Kyra to explain.

“On Miss West’s suggestion I think I’ve developed a way to protect us from further attacks on the boat at least. I believe I can modify a transmitter to produce a signal directly inverse of the engines, in essence it will give us an invisibility to the guidance systems on those torpedoes we ran into. Also, I created a new program to scan the boat for any signals in the radio and light spectrums that it might be sending. It won’t prevent them but it will give us advanced warning of their presence. If we scan before we head out, we should be reasonably sure that we aren’t tagged.” Kyra said.

“Can Tom and Dr. Michaels get back in the water so soon?” I asked.

“If necessary.” Tom said.

Dr. Michaels didn’t look like he agreed.

“It won’t be. You and I will be diving.” Jack said.

“I’m working on a way to narrow our search field from the original grid.” Kyra said.

“How?” I asked.

“While we were out the other day I got some pretty good scans of the ocean floor. Based on that data and the parameters I have for the medallion and Magellan, I think I can identify a specific locations or two at the most.” Kyra said.

“Not bad.” I said.

I was genuinely impressed.

“After breakfast, Kyra will have assignments for everyone to help out getting prepped for tomorrow’s departure.” Jack said.

At least being busy I won’t have too much time to worry about Mark. I sighed and turned my attention to the menu before me. It occurred to me it was a good representative of my life at the moment; so many things to choose from, but most of them aren‘t as good as they look.

August 22, 2009

Diving In: Rough Waters

The wake up call came about an hour before sunrise. Kyra insisted on being first to shower. I snuggled back into bed and fell asleep again. My dreams felt oddly familiar like memories nearly forgotten, but when I woke again they faded back into obscurity. It probably didn’t help that it was Jack shaking me awake. The room was practically spinning from his rattling and his impassive face was the only thing in focus as my eyes blinked rapidly to clear away the last vestiges of sleep.

“What’s wrong with you? Everybody is already downstairs and read to go.” Jack said.

I turned my head and had to shield my eyes from the morning sun coming in through the open curtains. The clock was impossible to read through the glare but the presence of the sun told me all I really needed to know; I was late.

“Go on without me. I’ll catch a cab and be there within the hour.” I said.

Jack nodded. He took a moment to look at his watch and then moved toward the door.

“One hour. Don’t be late.” Jack said.

“One hour.” I said.

I was practically in the shower before the door clicked shut. If Jack had stuck around much longer I would have eventually been embarrassed by my irresponsible behavior, but with him gone and the hot, steamy water pouring over my face, it was easier to be angry. At first, Kyra was the target in my thoughts but it didn’t take me long to conclude that wasn’t exactly fair. She hadn’t made me go back to sleep and it was far from her responsibility to wake me up. In fact, the open curtains suggested she might have even tried.

I stepped out of the shower, clean in body if not spirit, and I wiped the steam from a small part of the mirror. Staring back at me was the only person I could blame and furthermore, the only person worth of my anger. I took a moment to give her a silent lecture and good, long, stern look.

Inside the closet I discovered we’d received gifts from the clothing fairy, otherwise known as Joseph Candle, probably via Cathy. I had to think for a moment to recall Jack was wearing casual gear, shorts and a t-shirt with deck shoes. It wasn’t a guarantee but if the bosses is dressing casual, I’m guessing everyone else was as well. I picked out a red sundress and grabbed a pair of brown sandals, conveniently all in my size.

Based on my calculations, I was out of the door with forty minutes to get to the docks. That’s got to be some kind of a record for me getting showered and dressed. Too bad my dad wasn’t around to notice because he’d never believe it without seeing it. The thought put a smile on my face as I entered the elevator and pressed the button for the lobby.

I hadn’t noticed when I stepped inside but there was a young girl riding with me. She reminded me of someone but I couldn’t quite place it. I doubt she was much older than 8 or 9 and I briefly wondered why she was alone. Her long brown hair was brushed out straight and tied back with purple ribbons, that made me think of my own childhood. She was smiling and staring at me in reflection of the doors.

“Hi there.” I said.

“Hello.” She replied.

She sounded incredibly formal for a child. It seemed wrong for her to be riding the elevator alone and I wondered why her parents would allow her to wander off alone in such a busy hotel.

“Are you on vacation?” I asked.

In the deep recesses of my thoughts I understood it was possible her parents had dragged her along in their search for lost treasure, but I hoped it wasn’t the case.

“Are you?” She asked.

“No. I’m here for work.” I said.

“You’re trying to find the medallion.” She said.

So much for hope. She had to be one of the adventurers daughter and for that I felt sorry for her. I couldn’t imagine spending my childhood hopping around the world in one futile search after another.

“It’s my job.” I said. “Are your parents here to find it as well?”

“You should leave.” She said.

There was a gravity to her voice which made her suggestion sound more like a warning of danger than an instruction to be followed. It was unsettling to hear a child speak in such a way.

“I’ll be fine I’m sure. We probably won’t find anything anyway.” I said.

It was my intention to comfort the girl, but I seemed to have the opposite effect. She wrung her hands together in a clear sign of agitation. I reached out toward her and she pulled back away from me as though she thought I might hurt her. I let my hand fall back to my side and smiled my best non-threatening smile.

“It’s alright. I won’t hurt you.” I said.

The elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. The girl ran passed me and into the crowd of waiting people. No one paid any attention to her as she stopped in their way and turned her head back toward me.

“Go home Allison.” She said.

My mouth dropped open and I blinked in utter shock. How could she possibly know my name and not just my name but my real name? She didn’t wait around for me to collect my wit, but turned into the crowd and pushed her way through them. I followed through the crowd and out the corridor into the center of lobby. I turned a complete circle, looking everywhere, while my heart pounded in my chest and the blood in my head pulsed against my skull making me nauseas with dizziness. The little girl was gone, but the mystery remained.

I arrived at the docks with only a few minutes of my hour to spare. The team was already aboard our rented boat. Kyra was up top, completely absorbed in her equipment while the guys were all lounging on the lower deck. Jack offered me his hand to board. Stubbornly, I crossed from the dock to the deck without his help and nearly fell over for the trouble. I pretended it was nothing. Other than disapproving stares, nothing was said.

Tom took to the helm and we were out to sea in no time. The water was relatively calm and with the clear blue sky, I could almost pretend I was on a vacation. There is nothing quite like the gentle rocking of a boat at sea to make you feel free and relaxed. Unfortunately, work was never far enough away to complete the feeling.

We reached our location, a starting point on the grid Kyra had developed with Dr. Michaels help. The area was still large enough that it was unlikely we were in the right spot, but it made sense to search the grid methodically.

“Gene, Tom, you’ll be diving with me. Kyra, keep on the sonar and watch for trouble. Miss West, just hold position here and wait for us.” Jack ordered.

I considered arguing to accompany the group diving, but considering how the day started, I couldn’t blame him for leaving me behind. The guys changed into wetsuits and I helped them with their tanks. They didn’t really need the help but it at least made me feel like I was part of the team.

Once they were below the surface there wasn’t anything else to do. I found a sunny corner on the lower deck and sat on the rail, soaking up the rays and thinking about the girl at the hotel. It occurred to me that if she knew my real name, someone else did too. That thought led me to the glimpse I’d caught of Mark the night before. If he was involved with one of the other teams, he might have blown my cover without even knowing it. On the other hand, maybe he had just followed me. But, if that were true, how did the girl know my name?

Just thinking about it was giving me a headache. I decided to join Kyra on the upper deck and settled in at the helm. The seat was at least comfortable. She was actually looking nearly as bored as I felt.

“Are you still mad at me?” I asked.

“Who says I was mad at you?”

“The way you’ve been acting ever since we got back from Italy.”

“You made me feel like an idiot for helping you. If I’ve been mad at anyone it’s myself for allowing you to influence me against my better judgment.” Kyra said.

“I’m sorry. I messed up. We found the compasses and I guess I let it go to my head a little.” I said.

“You know you should lighten up on Jack.” She said.

“What?” I asked.

The sudden change of subjects left me feeling a touch confused.

“He’s not a natural leader, not like you. It’s hard for him and you don’t need to make it harder by challenging him at every turn.”

“I’m not challenging him.”

Kyra laughed at me.

“Seriously. I’m not.” I said.

“Right and--”

Kyra’s equipment started beeping. She nearly tipped over in her chair trying to turn so she could see what the trouble was. I was tempted to ask, but chose instead to give her a moment to figure it out without me interrupting. Her face went pale. Her hands flew to her keyboard and started typing damn near the speed of light.

“What’s happening?” I asked.

She didn’t even pause.

“We’ve got an incoming torpedo. Its guidance locked.” She said.

I swiveled back toward the wheel and slammed my hand into the starter button as if the velocity of my hand would bring the engines to life faster. With the anchor down I knew we wouldn’t be moving fast enough but I hoped I could maneuver enough to avoid a direct hit.

“We can’t outrun it V.” Kyra said.

Duh! Talk about an understatement.

“Where is it coming from?” I asked.

My eyes were scanning the water looking for any sign of the incoming projectile with our name on it.

“Quiet!” She said. “I’m trying to detonate it.”

Then I saw its wake. It was headed straight for the center of our starboard side. I gave the port engine full throttle and turned the wheel hard to starboard, turning us toward the torpedo but hopefully enough so that it cruised right beside us. I realized the anchor was going to take too long to retract so I hit the emergency release and dumped it. It also occurred to me that it would give Jack a sign that we were in trouble. Of course I realized it was quite likely they were under attack as well.

The boat turned slow. I watched in helpless horror as the torpedo closed the distance by the second. It had to have come within a few inches of our starboard hull, but miraculously it missed us. As soon as I saw it go passed our after quarter I straightened the rudder and matched speed on the starboard engine. We might not be able to outrun it but at the very least I could give Kyra a few more seconds to figure out how to detonate the thing.

“Tell me you’ve figured it out.” I said.

“A few more seconds.” She replied.

I looked behind us and immediately wished I hadn’t. The torpedo had clearly turned around and was coming right back at us. Unfortunately, I had turned the boat against the tide and our acceleration felt like a slug’s.

“Any idea where it came from?” I asked.

“A ship most likely.”

Ask a stupid question…

I settled on a course following the trail of the torpedo’s original wake. It wasn’t a guarantee to finding the source but it was definitely a direction toward the right quadrant of ocean. A quick examination of the horizon ahead revealed one ship a bit larger than the rest and a bit farther out. Without any better evidence I decided they were the most likely source.

“Got it!” Kyra shouted.

Sure enough, the torpedo exploded in the water only a few feet behind us. The resulting splash soaked us both and nearly stalled both the engines. Instinctually I managed to turn the boat so we rode the resulting wave and gained velocity. As it dissipated I put us on a heading straight for the large ship. I’m not sure what I thought I could accomplish, but I was angry enough to not care.

“Why didn’t your equipment pick it up before it was that close?” I asked.

“I don’t know. It was a quiet model but still we should have had more warning. I can’t track it to it’s source either. I think someone might be jamming our long range soar.” She said.

“Can you overlay satellite imagery on your sonar?” I asked.

“What difference would that make?”

“If there is a discrepancy we might know a bit more than we do now.” I said.

Kyra opened her mouth then shut it without saying a word. She turned back to her equipment and set to work.

“Where the hell are you?” Jack’s voice squawked over the radio.

“We had a little trouble up here.” I said.

“Tom and Gene are wounded. I need you back here now.” Jack said.

He almost sounded panicked.

“V, we’ve got another torpedo coming at us!” Kyra shouted.

“Can you detonate it?” I asked.

“They changed the frequency. I’ll need time to find the right one.” She replied.

“Jack, you’re going to have to wait.” I said.

“There’s blood in the water. We don’t have long before the sharks start circling.” Jack said.

“Understood.” I said. “Do you have the sonic screamer?”

“Negative. Tom left it in the cabin.” Jack replied.

An idea started to form in my head.

“Kyra how are those torpedoes tracking us?” I asked.

“Most likely through some sort of frequency tag.” She replied.

“Sounds waves?” I asked.

“Yeah, usually keyed to the frequency of a ship’s engines but we were dead in the water originally so they must have tagged us with something that’s emitting a beacon of some sort.”

“Can you find the signal?” I asked.

“Not and break their encryption to detonate that torpedo before it blows us to pieces.”

“How long till impact?” I asked.

“80 seconds.”

I could see it on the horizon ahead. We were headed straight for it.

“Were you able to confirm the source?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s definitely that big one you’re head for.”

“Find the frequency it’s tracking and then grab the sonic screamer and set it to match.” I ordered.

“What are you planning?” Kyra demanded.

“Just do it Kyra.” I replied.

It was going to take some very precise timing to work, but if we could pull it off, we’d be safe long enough to collect the rest of our team and escape to safer waters. I kept my eyes on the incoming torpedo and drove us straight for it. Somehow I doubted anyone else on the team would even think of trying what I was attempting and no doubt they’d all think I was insane.

“Got it.” Kyra said.

I nodded, but kept my attention focused on the torpedo and our course. She didn’t wait around for acknowledgment, but instead ran below to get the screamer. It would have been useful for the others if Tom had brought it with them, but he hadn’t. If my plan worked it was going to save all our lives though, making it better off being right where it was. If I’d had time to think about it, I would have enjoyed the irony of a mistake turning out to be anything but a mistake.

Kyra returned with the bright yellow device in her hands.

“It’s ready. Now are you going to tell me what you are doing?” Kyra said.

“Stand by to turn it on and throw it off the aft quarter on my command.” I said.

I was amazed how steady and calm my voice was considering if I failed in my attempt it would be the last thing I ever did. The nice thing was my calm demeanor seemed to inspire confidence in Kyra and keep her calm as well. If we were going to die, it wasn’t going to be like a couple of helpless girls.

The torpedo was only seconds away. It was time. I cranked the wheel to port and increased our acceleration to maximum. The bow hit the incoming wave of tide and the boat leapt out of the water and into the air for just a moment. But a moment was all that was needed. The torpedo went right beneath us through the water where we should have been. It didn’t take it long to figure out that it had missed it’s target. It was already altering its course to pursue us by the time I was certain we’d missed it.

I altered our course back toward the ship. It wasn’t so far away anymore and by the look of it, it was quite obvious it wasn’t around for the same purpose we were. I glanced behind us trying to keep an eye on just how close the torpedo was getting. It was fast, but reversing its course took time. We had at least a minute before impact. I hoped it would be enough.

The engines were roaring at their maximum torque, but I could barely hear them over the wind rushing passed my ears. Kyra kept glancing at me expectantly. I know she wanted an explanation, but if I gave her one she would likely try to stop me. I kept my focus and mentally crossed my fingers and toes.

“It’s almost on us.” Kyra said.

“I know. Just a few more seconds.”

It was then Kyra looked in front of us. We were seconds away from sideswiping our attacker. I looked behind us with my hand on the port throttle. It was going to be close.

“Hang on to something!” I shouted.

I shifted the port engine into neutral and cranked the wheel as fast as I could.

“Now!” I said.

Kyra threw the screamer into the water behind us. The starboard bow of our boat hit the port side of our attacker. The fiberglass screamed in protest and our port side dipped into the water at the force of the impact. The starboard propeller lifted up into the air and I re-engaged the port engine.

The torpedo lost us for a second in favor of the screamer Kyra had reconfigured, but whatever signal we were putting out was stronger. I’d been counting on it though. The torpedo returned to a heading for us only we were traveling perpendicular to our previous course and it was too dumb to figure that out. It slammed into the hull of those who’d launched it with an explosion that would have utterly destroyed a smaller ship. As it was they were on fire and taking on water.

Our little boat rode their hull to its end, leaving the torpedo’s destruction in our wake. I steered us back toward our original location keeping the engines at full power. Our immediate danger had passed but Jack and the others were still in trouble. Kyra was staring at the ship behind us with her mouth open. I would have laughed but my heart was still beating in my throat.

With the tide flowing our direction we reached Jack and the others in only a few minutes. We got them on board before any sharks took a serious interest them, but Dr. Michaels had a knife sticking out of the back of his shoulder and Tom’s left hand was sliced open. Jack was miraculously unharmed.

“What happened?” Kyra asked.

“Somebody didn’t want us looking down there.” Tom said.

“And someone didn’t want us waiting around up here either. I think we better head back in.” I said.

Jack nodded.

I set our course and engaged the engines with a little less speed than before. I was pretty sure we hadn’t seen the last of our troubles, but for the immediacy it seemed we were safe enough.

August 19, 2009

Diving In: A Delicate Dance

“Are you ready?” Jack asked.

He wore his black tux as casually as a cat wears fur. The bowtie was slightly crooked and before I even thought about it, I reached out to straighten it. Jack’s eyes laughed at me as he must have read the hesitation in fingers when I realized what I was doing. I patted his chest wistfully after finishing and momentarily forgot about everything else.

Dropping my hand I looked up and nodded, taking his proffered arm like the elegant woman I was meant to be for the night. The soft click of the closing door went unnoticed as we made our way to the elevator. Kyra stood there impatiently waiting, flanked by Tom and Dr. Michaels.

The elevator doors slid open with a soft ding.

Kyra turned and gestured into the empty elevator. Innocence looked like guilt on her smiling face. Whatever had happened between her and Jack behind those closed doors, it wasn’t enough.

“Going down?” She said.

Letting go of Jack’s arm, I walked passed her and straight to the back of the elevator. I turned on my toes and stared back at the others. On the inside I was laughing, but I tried to keep my face straight and I think I succeeded.

“Lobby please.” I said.

Without really trying, it appeared I had managed to annoy Kyra again. Jack ushered everyone into the elevator with me, but managed to stare at me the entire time. It was unnerving. He stepped inside, last, and reached out with his left hand to slap the button for the lobby and then entire time he kept his eyes locked with mine.

The ride was smooth and timeless and all the while, Jack and I stayed locked in each other’s gaze. When the doors slid open, Jack waited for the others to exit. I felt like I was being held after school and didn’t know what I’d done to anger my teacher.

“I realize it might be asking a little too much,” Jack said. “But do you think you could possibly not annoy everyone you meet tonight?”

I felt like fuming.

“Maybe I should just wait here at the hotel.” I said.

I didn’t mean it, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say in response.

“If I thought I could, I would. The problem is, trouble seems to find you no matter where you are.”

“That’s a bold statement from someone who barely even knows me.”

“Look. All I’m asking is you try to be a little less defensive tonight and maybe bite your tongue here and there instead of saying every smart thing that pops into your head. I’d really appreciate it.”

A thousand responses wandered the tip of my tongue, but in considering each and everyone of them, I came to the conclusion that he was more right about me than I wanted to admit. So, instead of defending myself and attacking him, I swallowed a little bit of pride and just accepted his words for what they were; Good advice.

“Okay.” I said.

“Okay?”

“Okay. You’re right. I’ve been on the defensive ever since I met all of you. As a group, you make me feel like I need to prove my worth and it’s a feeling I don’t like. Because of that, I’ve probably said more than a few things that I should not have. So, in short, I’ll try my best to leave that in the past starting now.” I said.

I hadn’t thought there had been a right thing to say in response to him, but the look on his face told me I’d pulled a rabbit right out of the proverbial hat.

“You continue to bewildered me, Miss West. Just when I think I’ve had enough of you, you turn around and make me wonder if I’m just going about everything the wrong way.”

I allowed myself a hollow giggle and a forced smile. It was just what Jack needed to feel like he’d made his point to me. We exited the elevator and rejoined the others at the curb where a black SUV was waiting to take us away. Inside the car, we were all quiet as we waited to leave. I gaze back inside the hotel and for a moment I thought I saw a familiar face in the crowd. He was gone almost as soon as I’d noticed him but a cold shiver ran down my spine and even thought I wanted to doubt my eyes, I knew what I’d seen.

Somehow, someway, Mark had followed me. I kept the information to myself, but my thoughts swam in circles. There were the endless questions of course, but also there was a touch of real fear. Mark could, unknowingly and single-handedly, destroy the secrecy Joseph Candle had gone to such pains to create. I knew there was nothing I could do about it at the present time, but that didn’t stop the thoughts from weighing heavily on my mind.

Dinner was nothing short of fabulous and almost enough to take my mind off of Mark. We were far from the only guests of the ambassador for the evening. The dining hall was in fact packed with at least a couple hundred people. Most of them were in some way like Q5, attempting to gain permits for diving off the coast in search of treasure. Although not everyone was interested in the medallion it quickly became clear that it was the hot topic of the night. Dr. Michaels seemed ready to come to blows at one point as he argued with a European professor over the likelihood of the medallion’s existence.

After dinner we met privately with the Ambassador for a total of ten minutes. Jack spent them wisely arguing our case and negotiating terms in the event we found what we were looking for or anything else of value. I stayed quiet, and paid close attention to every detail. It was just a feeling, but it seemed like I was nothing more than eye candy for the Ambassador while they talked. Amazing myself and probably Jack too, I managed to avoid acting on the feeling and the impulses it brought with it.

When we stepped outside the Ambassador’s office back into the main hall, we remained uncertain as to whether or not we had succeeded. Clearly we were competing for a slot against numerous other teams and someone had arbitrarily decided to limit the number of people they were going to allow to search for relics off their shores. The politics of the situation were undoubtedly complicated.

“What do you think?” I asked.

Jack glanced back at the door behind us before turning to me.

“He liked you.” Jack replied.

“Yeah the way he was staring at me I was beginning to wonder if my dress had slipped a bit too low.”

“Sorry about that, but you handled it well. He’s a bit of a dirty old man but then you do look amazing in that.”

I had the good sense to blush.

“Care to dance while we wait?” Jack asked.

I looked around the room. Plenty of dancing was going on and the orchestra was performing nicely, but at the edges of the room there were also plenty of people watching the people dancing. I spotted Gina taking pictures and immediately decided that was the last thing I needed to be photographed doing.

“Thanks, but I think I’ll skip it.” I said.

Jack looked disappointed and for a moment I almost felt guilty enough to change my mind. Then Jack led me over to the bar and ordered champagne for us both. I considered mention we hadn’t succeeded yet, but then I recalled his words in the elevator. I smiled and accepted my flute without a word.

“Would you like to meet some of our competitors?” Jack asked.

He was gazing out at the room and not at me. I felt insulted. The truth was, I’d been curious about meeting our competition from the beginning and I think Jack knew it.

“You go ahead. I’m just going to relax right here.” I said.

I don’t know why I said it. Maybe I wanted him to work a little harder at convincing me or maybe I thought he wasn’t being sincere, either way it was a silly game. Jack wasn’t up for playing. He paused for a moment, nodded his acceptance and left me alone.

“I’m an idiot.” I muttered to myself when he was gone.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. Jack’s a real bastard more often than not.” A man said.

I spun around, nearly splashing my champagne on the man in the process. He was distinguished looking but then tuxedos do that to men. The gray hair and gray beard probably made him look older than he actually was because his voice seemed at least ten years younger.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.” He said.

“That’s quite alright. I’m a little jumpy I guess.” I replied.

“It comes with the territory I suppose.” He said.

I wondered what exactly he meant by that, but was reluctant to ask.

“I’m Virginia West.” I introduced myself.

“I suspected as much. You are much lovelier than your file.” He said.

“Hmm. Should I be concerned that you have a file on me?”

“Don’t worry. I have one on just about everyone in this room.”

“And just who are you to be keeping tabs on all these fine people?” I asked.

“I’d have thought Joey would have warned you about me already.” He replied.

“Joey?” I asked.

I suspected who he meant but I just had to hear it aloud.

“I’m sorry, you probably still call him Mr. Candle.”

“That I do and what should I call you?” I asked.

He chuckled.

“It’s been a long time since I had to introduce myself. I’m Alexander Kemp, but you can call me Alex.”

“So Alex, why would Mr. Candle warn me about you?” I asked.

He seemed amused as he studied me for a moment.

“Joey likes to think I steal things from him.”

“I don’t belong to him.”

“I find that very hard to believe.” He said.

“Why is that?”

“Joey possesses things. It’s who he is.”

“I’m nobody’s possession.” I stated.

The very thought irritated me.

“I meant no offense. I’ve known Joey a long time and he’s fairly predictable.”

I nodded.

“He controls everything and everyone around him in some manner. He’ll use money, fear, or anything that gives him leverage enough to ensure the people around him will do precisely what he wants. If you’ve escaped that, you’re one of a lucky few.” Alex said.

I wanted to deny the truth in his words. He was after all, the competition and driving doubts into my brain was no doubt his intention. It would have been easier if he was mean or menacing but he wasn’t any of those things. As much as I wanted to deny the charge I couldn’t avoid the fact that Joseph Candle had indeed used both money and fear to get me to do the things he wanted.

“Do you steal from him?” I asked.

He hadn’t expected the question and I took a little pleasure in the startled look on his face. It only lasted a moment but it was clear enough to me. Alex Kemp had definitely been trying to throw me off balance and I had momentarily turned the tables. I had the distinct impression, it wasn’t something that happened to him very often.

“Would you believe me if I said no?” He asked.

“That depends.” I answered.

“Depends on what?”

“Why are you talking to me?” I asked.

“You’re a very beautiful young woman. Do I need another reason?”

He really was quite good at being charming.

“You don’t, but you have one.” I said.

“I can see why he went to such lengths to obtain you.”

“Care to let me in on the secret?” I asked.

“Oh no, I wouldn’t dare rob you of the fun.” He said.

“Are you going to offer me a job Alex?” I asked.

“Would you accept?” He asked.

“No.” I said.

“Then I will not offer.”

“Don’t tell me you are afraid of rejection.” I said.

“I take risks all the time Miss West. I simply see no point in taking one where the outcome is definitely negative from the start.”

From across the room I noticed Tom and Kyra staring at me. They both looked angry and nervous which made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. I finished off my champagne and laid the empty glass on the bar.

“It’s been a pleasure Alex, but I think I should be rejoining my group.” I said.

“Dance with me.” He said.

It was an order, a request, a demand, and a question, all in the same breath. Against my better judgment I accepted. I knew I should have walked away and left him empty handed. It was my gut though, that told me there was more to Alex Kemp than met the eye. Of course he was the competition and all that it implied and yet some instinct told me it was better to dance than walk away.

As we spun around the dance floor, I saw Jack watching. His eyes were angry and sad and for the second time, I felt guilty about turning him down.

As the evening came to an end, the permits were announced and we went back to the hotel with success. Jack remained quiet the entire drive and all the way up to our rooms. I could tell he wanted to say something to me and I nearly dared him to say anything at all, but in the end he kept his thoughts to himself.

August 16, 2009

Diving In: Dresses And Dreams

We left Jack and Kyra alone, behind closed doors. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider eavesdropping. I could be wrong, but I’d say Tom and Dr. Michaels would have sooner joined me, ear to the wall, than anything else. Setting a good example in such circumstances can be difficult although all it required for me was to recall Italy. I certainly hope none of them were listening at the door on that particular occasion.

There was silence at first. Tom had something to do, checking over the room for hidden spy equipment, but Dr. Michaels and I found ourselves sitting side by side on a bed pretending to read from the same page of the same book. I probably should have taken some comfort in the fact I was not the only one terribly curious about what was happening in the room next door. Instead, I felt guilty, jumpy, and completely distracted by images I was ashamed to admit had even entered my mind.

It played out like a trashy romance novel. You know the kind, with the bare-chested hunk on the cover. Jack was the hunk, of course. As soon as we had left the room, he tore his shirt from his body like a man without patience. His muscles rippled and flexed as he stared at Kyra, now quivering on the bed. Was it anticipation or fear in her big green eyes?

Jack moved closer until he was leaning down on top of her prone form at the edge of the bed. His breath smelled like sweet winter mint. She gaze up at him, no remorse, and fluttered her long eyelashes. His determined anger wavered but did not falter. The index finger on his right hand wagged at her as his soft voice lectured her twitching ears. His lips grew ever closer to her lobes as he spoke of her bad, bad behavior.

Suddenly, his hands gripped her shoulders and yanked her to her feet. She gasped, surprised at the rough gentleness of his forceful move. Her lips reached for his, but he pulled back just before they met. Callously, he spun her away from him. The time for words was at an end and without any warning he ripped her white blouse down her arms until it was free. With a twitch of his wrist he sent it flying across the room to crash softly in the corner beside the door.

She cried out in surprise and embarrassment, but he paid her no mind. His hands moved on to her gray skirt. He slid it down her legs until it gathered in wrinkles around her feet and once there, he lifted her feet free, a leg at a time. She could have resisted but something made her cooperate. It could have been fear or passion or a mixture of both, but the end result was the same. She allowed him to bend her to his will.

He stood again and spun her around to face him once more. She blushed and found herself unable to meet his piercing gaze. Her modest white undergarments felt like beacons calling his eyes to her most private and tender flesh. She wanted desperately to shield them from his gaze, but her hands betrayed her and stayed motionless by her sides. The hot, humid air felt suddenly frigid and her nipples sprang forward, demanding attention and warmth.

Jack reached around behind his back and pulled his blue leather paddle from the back of his slacks. He pointed it with menace at Kyra and an slightly smile crept upon his cheeks. His eyes moved from her eyes to her breasts and then slowly, down, down, until they rested on her panty clad waistline.
“I think we’ll have those off.” He said.

His words were barely more than a whisper but they echoed like thunder in her head. The pink flush of her cheeks, brightened to red as the meaning became clear in her thoughts. Her fingers trembles at the waistband. Her breath shortened and thought the material slid down her legs in an instant, it seemed an eternity. Stepping out of them, she lifted the white satin material and offered it limply on a shaking hand to Jack. He merely point at the corner with the paddle and smiled a little more.

Kyra bit at her lower lip. She squeezed her eyes shut, but nothing changed. Defeated by the reality facing her, she tossed her useless panties to the corner and waited. Her nervous eyes darted from the floor to Jack’s pulsing chest and back to the floor again. She struggled to breathe with calm and failed. Jack stepped closer and slipped a finger under bra strap and pushed it off to the side where it dangled down her arm. Her eyes flashed upward into his as she realized what was coming.

“No.” she mouthed.

Jack nodded, yes. She inhaled sharply, looking for courage and somewhere, she found it. Her hands steadied and unfastened the clasp behind her back. The bra fell freely down her arms and without further thought or question, she flung it to join the rest of her discarded clothing. A new bravery overcame her and she met his gaze with her own. Her hands came to rest at her sides and she silently invited his exploration of all that she was.

He pretended not to care. His eyes drifted over her body, but only for a moment before he pushed passed her and sat down on the edge of the bed. Feeling shunned, she swallowed hard in a desperate attempt to hide the humiliation of rejection. Jack grabbed her by the arm and threw her over his lap. She shuddered in surprise or was it anticipation?

The paddle floated high in the air above her naked buttocks. Her legs tried to wriggle free, but to no avail. Jack slipped his own leg over hers pinning them in place. She made fist in the sheets and pounded frustration into the bed. He allowed her the freedom knowing it would make what was to come easier for her to endure.

Thwack!

The leather licked her soft white globes giving them a faint tint of color. Kyra moaned into the sheets and twisted as much as she could beneath his strong arm holding her down. Her hands reached backward, stretching out to ease the sting. It was hopeless and she knew it, but she tried anyway. Jack pinned her free arm to her back and raised the leather again.

Thwack!

Kyra whimpered in a way that sounded like a mixture of pain and passion. He smiled as her milky white globes sprang upward with a pink flush for his eyes alone. The mild sting was nothing compared to the frustration Kyra felt as she struggled helpless to prevent the many more spanks yet to come. Jack raised the paddle again, his eyes focused on the pink, naked flesh of the beautiful woman lying on his lap.

Snap!

A masculine hand appeared in front of my imaginings and abruptly I was brought back to reality with a burning flush on my face. Of course no one could possibly no the thoughts that had been coursing through my head, but that didn’t make it any less embarrassing to have been caught in the midst of a daydream.

“You alright?” Jack asked.

Obviously he had finished his business with Kyra. I glanced at the clock next to the bed wondering just how long I’d been sitting there lost in my imagination. I cleared my throat and tried to laugh off the uncomfortable moment as something insignificant.

“Fine. I was just uh lost in thought.” I said.

“Clearly.” Jack said. “I was saying we have a dinner party to attend tonight. You’ll be accompanying me.”

“Are you asking me out on a date?” I asked.

The words were out of my mouth before the implication hit my brain. Jack blinked like I had slapped him which made me blush. How foolish of me to think he’d ever be interested in me in that way. I masked my embarrassment with a well time giggle, insinuating it was all a joke. Jack chuckled, but it was slightly forced and I could tell I’d managed to make him uncomfortable. If that wasn’t enough, Dr. Michaels and Tom were staring at me.

“I’m afraid it’s all business.” Jack said.

“I guess I can’t say no then.” I said.

Tom nearly choked on a laugh.

“What about everyone else?” I asked.

“They’re coming too.” Jack said. “You and I have a place at the Ambassador’s table.”

“Sounds fancy. I don’t have a thing to wear.” I said.

“That’ll turn some heads.” Tom said.

It was Jack’s turn to choke on a laugh.

“Why Tom, I didn’t know you were even looking.” I said.

It was Tom’s turn to blush.

I smiled. So what if there was some devilish pleasure in it.

“Joe had a gown sent over for you. It’s hanging next door in your room.” Jack said.

I nodded, not exactly surprised by the news.

“I guess you’ll have to wait awhile longer to see me in the flesh.” I said to Tom.

“Shall I feign disappointment or bask in my relief?” Tom replied.

Failing to find a suitable a retort that didn’t involve four letter vulgarity, I stuck my tongue out and walked away before Tom, or anyone else, could say another word. I slipped through the open door between the rooms and closed it behind me. I wasn’t sure what state I would find Kyra in, but she was sitting on chair staring at her computer screens. To my surprise there were no signs of freshly cried tears or any other reason to think she might have been recently distraught. The only conclusion I could come to was that my daydream was even more fantasy than I thought.

The gown Jack spoke of was waiting for me on the back of the bathroom door. It was breathtaking just hanging there and I shamelessly decided it would be coronary inducing once I got it on. Feeling a bit like a freshman invited to the senior prom, I tore out of my business suit and slipped into the elegant burgundy dress. It fit snugly in all the right places and I smiled like a temptress, staring at myself in the mirror.

As if on cue, my phone rang.

“Hello.” I said.

“Miss West, I trust you received the evening gown?” Mr. Candle asked.

“Yes. It’s lovely.” I said.

“I’m glad you like it. Cathy assured me it would be a perfect fit.”

“She should have been a seamstress.” I said.

“I’ll tell her you were pleased.”

“Thank you.” I said. “Was there something else?”

“I trust Jack has informed you of the evening’s dinner?”

“Of course.”

I wondered if there was more to it than dinner, but decided it would be best to ask Jack directly rather than making him look bad to Joseph Candle.

“Excellent. Be careful and good luck.” Mr. Candle said.

The call disconnected before I could ask what I should be careful about. It was disconcerting, but there was no point in worrying about an unknown future. I made some final adjustments to my hair and took a final look in the mirror. If looks mean anything, it’s going to be a hell of an evening.

August 13, 2009

Diving In: Making Waves

The hotel lobby was as hot and humid as the outside. It was full of life and not just the people milling around, but plants were a central part of the d├ęcor. We left on such short notice the only luggage we were burden with was Kyra and Tom’s equipment. Given the heat, I was looking forward to a nice cool shower and a change into more comfortable attire. Of course, we would need to buy the attire which didn’t seem like such a bad thing either.

“V, get us checked in and make sure Kyra and Gene have everything they need.” Jack said.

We were standing off to the side of the main entrance.

“Going somewhere?” I asked.

“Yes. We need to obtain some permits before we can do anything here.” Jack said.

“Fun. Any idea when you’ll be back?”

“A couple hours maybe longer. It’s hard to estimate.”

“Right. What about clothes? We’re going to need more than what we’ve got on our backs.”

“Joe will take care of that. By tonight we’ll have everything we need and then some.”

“And here I was looking forward to a shopping trip.” I said.

“We have more important things to do.” Kyra said.

It was meant as a barb, but I chose to ignore it. Jack glance at Kyra said all that needed to be said anyway. I nodded at Jack.

“Good luck.” I said.

He nodded back at me with a hint of a smile on his lips. I headed for the check-in counter and he headed back outside. It took a moment but the rest of the team followed me and I somehow managed to avoid looking back over my shoulder to make sure.

The hotel turned out to be overbooked and our five suites were demoted to two doubles. The guys were going to be uncomfortable with one of them having to sleep on a rollaway. Keys in hand I stepped away from the counter and out of the way. Everyone had heard the bad news and if the expressions on their faces were any clue, no one was too happy about it.

“If you had a backbone we would have what we are supposed to have.” Kyra said.

Her accusing tone was meant to challenge me and incite the others to come down on me as well. Tom and Gene weren’t quite ready to jump on the wagon though and I wasn’t biting.

“If you think you could get a better result, please do your best. I’m still new to all of this.” I said.

“I like how you pick and choose when to use that line.” Kyra said.

“Unless someone thinks they can do better on our rooms, I suggest we head up to them.” I said.

Kyra seemed to want to engage in a battle of wits but for a change I was realizing it takes two to fight. Whatever her problem was with me, it was going to have to wait for a more appropriate time. I looked around at my group and seeing that no one had anything else to say, I turned and walked to the elevators. Unfortunately there was a line which forced me to stop and wait again.

One glance at Kyra told me she was about to take advantage of the situation and press on with her subtle attacks. I quickly decided to take away her opportunity. Tom seemed convenient but in retrospect I might have found a better direction to prod our conversation.

“Tom, I want you to sweep both rooms for any surveillance devices before anyone gets settled.” I said.

Tom rolled his eyes and shook his head at me as if to say I didn’t know what I was talking about.

“If anyone’s that interested in us it would be a first and if they are, there isn’t much I can really do about it because if they’re good enough to get stuff into our rooms they’re good enough to bounce a laser off our windows.” Tom replied.

“Just do it.” I said.

It wasn’t his fault I was an idiot but with Kyra riding me, I wasn’t in the mood to have it pointed out to me. My brain was racking its way through the slight embarrassment trying to find another subject to discuss before Kyra took advantage of the silence. Nothing seemed to be going smoothly.

“V!” A familiar voice shouted from somewhere behind me.

I spun around to find the source and my eyes locked onto a ridiculously happy Gina. She waved as if I could possibly not have seen her already, but I couldn’t help smiling and waving back. I had never really thought I’d see her again after camp, especially with how things had ended. Still, it was good to see her and clearly she was even more happy to see me.

“Excuse me for a few minutes. I’ll meet you upstairs.” I said.

“You do know we’re working here?” Kyra said.

My patience was running out but I managed to contain myself to a narrow eyed glare in her direction and a gruff tone to my voice.

“See to the rooms Tom and then help Kyra get set up. I’ll be up in a few minutes.” I said.

Kyra was about to say something else but Tom stopped her with a hand over her mouth. I almost laughed aloud at the sight. Kyra wasn’t laughing though. Dr. Michaels was at least remaining quiet. He was absorbed with his phone where he was reading up on data he’d downloaded before we debarked from the jet.

“Don’t be long.” Tom said.

I nodded at him and left to meet Gina halfway in the distance between us.

“How are you?” I asked when we were close enough for her to hear me without shouting.

“Better. Great. I see you’re with your whole team. How’s it working out?” She said.

Just seeing her and the excitement she clearly was feeling, made me feel better. It was like getting a personality transplant the way she eased my tension and relaxed me with her mere presence. I felt as if I was grinning like an idiot, but I didn’t care at all.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I could ask you the same but I already know why you are here.” Gina teased.

“Are you avoiding answering me?” I said.

Gina laughed. It was good to hear her laughing again.

“I’m here to cover the story if one of you actually finds this medallion.” She said.

“I suppose I really shouldn’t be talking to you then.” I said.

“Why? You aren’t afraid of Joseph Candle’s big blue paddles are you?” Gina asked.

I’m not sure what image was floating around inside of Gina’s head but she definitely planted a humorous one in mine; Joseph Candle chasing me around his office with a blue leather paddle the size of a tennis racket shaking in his hand. It was both hilarious and terrifying.

“Joseph Candle is the least of my worries.” I said.

Gina nodded as if she understood. It’s probably a trick they teach reporters. I can see how it would work quite well. You simply nod and your subject suddenly feels like you know the things you want to know and therefore all thoughts of keeping secrets fade away. I mean what’s the point of a secret that everyone knows?

Of course my secrets aren’t known to everyone and I’m almost constantly aware of just how little everyone around me knows about me. Every time someone calls me V or Miss West, I am reminded that I am a stranger in my own life. It would be nice to have someone to discuss it with other than Joseph Candle but in my short time with Q5, I have realized he was absolutely right when he told me no one could know.

“So tell me, who is favored to find the elusive medallion?” I asked.

Gina’s grin grew wider.

“Ah ha! So you are here for the medallion.” She said.

I laughed.

“That wasn’t a secret.” I said.

“Well so far everyone else has denied that’s what they are here for.” She said.

“I’m sure not everyone is looking for it.” I said.

Gina gave me a “really?” look and I laughed.

“Okay, so maybe most of them are.” I said.

She nodded.

“So who’s the favored team?” I asked.

“It’s hard to say, but honestly Q5 isn’t anywhere near the top. I mean everyone says you’re a wild card on the team, but you’re up against a ton of experience on other teams.” She said.

“How many other professional teams are we pitted against?” I asked.

Gina might have set out to get information from me, but in reality she was providing me with more useful information.

“There are at least four other teams that I know about. I’ve heard rumors there is even a Chinese team coming, but no one has seen them yet.”

“What can you tell me about the other teams?” I asked.

“Wait a second. I’m supposed to be asking you the questions.” Gina said.

“I know, but it works so much better this way.” I said.

Gina shook her head at me, still half laughing.

“Hands down the best equipped will be Alex Kemp’s team. He’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty, but if he can pay someone else to do it, he will.” Gina said. “Watch out for the Russian team, if they think you’ve found it they’ll try to take it from you. The other two teams I don’t know much about. One of them is mostly a French group but I think their leader is Belgian and the other is basically a collection of mercenaries led by a former Seal. I’d tell you more if I knew.”

“That’s more than I knew ten minutes ago. Thanks.” I said.

“Can you answer one question for me?” Gina asked.

“Ask and I’ll let you know.”

“What coordinates are you going to start your search from?”

I sighed.

“I wish I knew. We are still compiling data, trying to narrow the search field.” I said.

“If you knew would you tell me?”

“No. I can’t risk giving someone else a head start.” I said.

“I figured that. Well if you think of anything interesting you can tell me, I’ll be around.” She said.

I nodded. We said our goodbyes and headed off our separate ways. I wondered how much hell I was going to catch from my team as I rode the elevator up to our rooms. Exiting the elevator I was struggling to remember the room numbers when I heard shouting down the hall. I recognized the voice as Tom’s immediately. I broke into a run, heading straight for the commotion. I burst into the room, thinking I was ready for anything and I was, except for what I found.

Tom was lying on the floor. His face was bright red. Wires were wrapped around in every which direction and it was clear by his twitching that the more he moved the tighter his confinement was becoming. He was glaring at Kyra and barely even noticed my entrance.

Kyra was laying on the bed, laughing hysterically. If this had happened in Italy I would have considered it an accident and been laughing myself, but having worked with the team, I doubted anything was accidental. Kyra saw me and decided my entrance was almost as amusing as Tom’s predicament.

“What’s going on here?” I demanded.

Kyra continued to laugh. Tom chose silence. Dr. Michaels cleared his throat. I turned to him.

“I do believe Tom has managed to get himself wired.” Dr. Michaels said.

Clearly, he thought he was being funny. I looked between the three of them and decided I didn’t really care what was going on or who was responsible for what.

“Get him out of this before something gets damaged.” I ordered.

Kyra stopped laughing long enough to glare at me.

“It wouldn’t have happened--” She began.

I knew what she was going to say. She was intending to somehow blame me for the mess because I had stopped to talk with a friend. I snapped my fingers at her, gaining her irritated attention.

“If you need that much supervision from me to get your job done then I can think of something else you need as well.” I said. “Now, help Tom extricate himself from those wires and make sure your equipment is working before I decide to mention what you need to Jack.”

Finally Kyra decided to do what I asked instead of questioning me and my authority. It bothered me that I had to resort to threats, but something told me nothing else was going to work until Kyra and I had a free moment to work out the real problem between us.

It only took a few minutes for her to free Tom. You might have thought he’d be grateful, but you’d be wrong. If anything he was angry at me for getting involved. I knew right then I was going to have to develop a thick skin if I hoped to survive with this bunch of misfits I was supposed to call my team.

Once it was clear Kyra’s equipment was functioning properly and Dr. Michaels had access to everything he needed I turned my attention to other things.

“Tom, did you find anything when you checked the rooms?” I asked.

He glanced at me and instantly I knew he’d ignored my order to look for surveillance equipment. I tried to control the anger building up inside me as my spine straightened and my jaw set in its “Don’t mess with me” pose. The blood rushed to my face and I’m sure Tom was trying to decide whether I was embarrassed, pissed off, or both.

“You didn’t even check.” I said.

“Check what?” Jack asked from behind me.

I kept my eyes on Tom who wasn’t looking quite up to his usual cockiness.

“I asked Tom to check our rooms for bugs.” I said.

“You ignored her?” Jack asked.

Tom didn’t seem to be able to look at Jack or me.

“I was distracted.” Tom said at long last.

“By what?” Jack asked.

“Kyra.” I answered.

“She left us alone.” Kyra said, pointing at me as if there was another “she” in the room.

Jack sighed in obvious disgust.

“Sweep the rooms, Tom. Everybody out, I need a word with Kyra. Alone.” Jack ordered.

Nobody dared to question his orders.

August 10, 2009

Diving In: Breath Of Courage

Summer sun beat down on the tarmac and I stepped away from the others. My phone found its way into my hand once I was alone. The entire ride from QI to the airport I had spent wondering just what I was going to say and more importantly just what they were going to say to me. With a deep breath of courage I dialed home.

“Beaumont residence.” Mom answered.

“Hi mom.” I said.

“Allison? What’s that noise?”

“I’m at the airport. I have to go away again.”

“So soon? You just got back.”

“I know. I’m not sure how long but expect at least three or four days, probably a week.”

“You don’t even have a bag packed.”

“The company will provide everything I need.”

“Allison, that‘s wasteful and entirely unnecessary. There is no reason you can‘t just come home and pack some things before you go.”

“I’m sorry mom. It’s out of my hands.”

“I want you to come home right now.”

“Mom, that’s not going to happen. I’m needed here.”

“Your job isn’t that important. This constant traveling is ridiculous.”

“It’s just a business trip and it‘s my job for now. I’ll be back before you know it.”

“Maybe it’s time you left this job and started looking for something more suitable.”

“I’m just getting started here and while it’s not the best job it still beats being unemployed.”

“You have your reputation to think of. All this traveling with your boss is inappropriate.”

“Mom, you’re being ridiculous. I have to go.”

I disconnected the call before she could say anything more. I knew she wasn’t going to be happy and I’ll probably have more than my hands full when I get back. I’d be lying to say I haven’t considered untangling myself from Joseph Candle, but hearing my mother demand it was having the opposite effect on me. Sometimes, being contrary to her is all the motivation I need.

There was one more call I needed to make before boarding the plane. I considered not making it. It wasn’t strictly necessary, but unless I was going to allow my parents to completely control my life outside of work, it was important enough to take a few minutes. I glanced at the waiting jet and decided it could wait a couple minutes more. I dialed. The call went directly to his voicemail.

At the tone; “Mark, It’s Allison. I know we were supposed to get together later this week but I don’t think I’ll be making it. I have to leave town again and I’m not sure when I’ll be getting back. I’ll call you when I get back. Bye.” I said.

A few minutes later I was sitting in a semi-comfortable chair looking out over the Pacific Ocean and wondering if I wanted to ever come back down. Part of me felt like I was finally finding where I belonged with these strangers in the sky. They weren’t friends and that didn’t matter because that wasn’t what I needed anyway. Together we have purpose and direction and that’s what has been missing from my life thus far.

As we soared above the clouds and the blue ocean faded away I turned my attention back to my companions. We were heading into a situation which would likely require all of us to be at our best if we were to going to even have a chance at success. I felt the pressure and the uncertainty of what to expect. The knowledge that one or more of them might be more interested in seeing us fail than succeed was like a load of bricks resting on my shoulders. It was time to do something constructive and stop waiting for someone else to act.

“Dr. Michaels.” I said. “From Mr. Candle’s report is it safe for me to assume we are working off the theory that Magellan’s body was carried from the coast and into the sea?”

He stared over at me through quizzical eyes.

“The assumption is less than certain but it clearly what we are working off of.” He replied.

I nodded.

“Thank you. Kyra, what kind of model are you working up to narrow our search area?” I asked.

Kyra nearly bristled at me and her expression left little doubt as to how annoyed she felt by my question. I didn’t really care. Finding the medallion without unnecessary delay was more important than her feelings.

“We don’t have much to go on. I don’t even have a specific origin to start with. It’s going to be a lot of guess work.” Kyra said.

“I thought there was a marker at the spot where he was killed?” I said.

“You are correct, however, the location is likely to be inaccurate.” Dr. Michaels said.

I bit at my lip, thinking through the logical steps.

“Alright. Let’s determine a radius around that marker.” I said.

“Based on what?” Kyra asked.

“Dr. Michaels, you don’t dispute his death on the coast, correct?”

“Correct. The marker was simply placed long after the actual death of Magellan and it’s location is based primarily off of oral history passed down through the generations.”

“So, the location is based off of what? Trees, rocks, tidal markers?” I asked.

“All of the above.” Dr. Michaels said.

“Okay. Tidal markers seems the most reliable out of that. Can we extrapolate changes in the tidal markers between when the marker was placed and when Magellan was killed?” I asked.

“In theory.” Kyra said.

“What stops us from making that theory a reality?” I asked.

“Incomplete storm records for starters.” She replied.

“Alright, but what kind of an error are we talking about?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well if the records are incomplete and say for example there was a storm of the greatest magnitude ever recorded or there were no significant storms at all how far would the model be off?” I said.

“Umm, I don’t know. Give me a minute.”

Kyra was typing away before she finished speaking. Dr. Michaels had moved closer and was sitting between Kyra and me. I noticed, while we waited, it was the first time since I met him that he seemed genuinely interested in something other than ridiculing me. The change felt like progress.

“In a worst case scenario we could be off by about two feet.” Kyra said.

“That doesn’t sound too bad. What does that do to our search area if we allow for the location within a radius of four feet?” I asked.

“I think I can narrow it further.” Kyra said.

“How?” Dr. Michaels asked.

“Some of the area that would be defined in that radius would not have allowed the body to be washed out to sea at all unless it was moved by someone.” Kyra replied.

“Well that’s certainly a possibility.” Dr. Michaels said.

“But not a likely one. Lapu-Lapu would have enjoyed displaying Magellan’s body to his enemy. Had it not washed away, he would not have been likely to simply toss it in the sea.” I said.

“That’s a drastic simplification of the situation. Our chief reason for believing his body was washed to sea is simply that the medallion itself has not made an appearance since Magellan’s death. It is equally possible that there is another reason for the medallions absence and one of the many other stories regarding Magellan’s body is true.” Dr. Michaels said.

I nodded.

“You’re right of course, but unless we are going to make some radical assumptions we have to stick within the confines of the legend we are choosing to believe.” I said.

“Agreed.” Dr. Michaels said.

“I’ve narrowed the parameters to only those locations within our extrapolated death radius. It will take some time but I think, based on these assumptions, I can narrow our search down to a square mile of the ocean floor.” Kyra said.

“Excellent. Will that also account for drift as the body sank and movement from decomposition?” I said.

“I’m not new at this.” Kyra said.

“I’m just asking to make sure we are thinking of all the angles.” I said.

“Fine. I’ll work up the parameters and you can review them to see if you think I’ve missed anything.” Kyra said.

“Thank you. Have Dr. Michaels review them as well.” I said.

For a moment she glared at me in silence. I could feel the hostile annoyance in the air between us, but I decided to ignore it and move onward. There was no point in getting caught up in pettiness and more to the point, there wasn’t time. I turned my attention to Tom, who was sitting off to the other side of the cabin looking amused as he watched the interplay between myself and Kyra.

I stood and crossed the cabin to stand next to him.

“Tom, I inferred from Mr. Candle’s briefing that we will be dealing with some unscrupulous types on this outing.” I said.

“It’s always a possibility, but don’t you worry. I’ll protect you.” Tom said.

“Thanks, but I prefer to be a little more self-reliant.” I said.

“Suit yourself.”

“I will. Do we have guns that will work after getting wet or even in the water?” I asked.

“Handguns and saltwater don’t mix well. If you get them wet you got a 50/50 chance of them firing until you clean and dry the weapon. I’d also recommend tossing any ammo that gets wet.”

“So we don’t have anything that’s waterproof?” I asked.

It seemed a little hard to believe to me.

“Sorry, it just don’t exist. I can equip you with a waterproof carrying case, but if you get the gun itself into the water there are just no guarantees.”

“So we are stuck with spear guns and knives in the water?”

“Just knives.” Tom said.

“I see.”

“What can we expect in the way of dangerous marine life in this region?” I asked.

“Well most of the marine life isn’t dangerous unless provoked.”

“You know what I am asking.” I said.

My patience with his lazy attitude was wearing a bit thin.

“Sharks and eels mostly. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone.” He said.

“It might not always be possible depending on the situation.” I said. “I’ve read about sonic emitters that create a buffer zone for divers.”

“They aren’t perfect and sometimes they can antagonize the creatures rather than drive them off.”

“I think it would be wise if we had the equipment available at least. Then we can decide whether to use it or not when we are on the scene and know what we are dealing with.” I said.

“Alright. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Good. Also, get us something for use in the water other than knives. If our competition gets a little to cutthroat while we’re down there, I want to have the odds weighted in our favor.”

“I don’t really--”

“Just do it.” I said.

His easy going expression disappeared. I braced myself for a barrage of insults or some other verbal attack but it never came. He blinked and relaxed again, flashing me a smile as if nothing bother him.

“Yes, ma’am.” He said.

A hand came to rest on my shoulder from behind me causing me to look around. Jack was standing there with an unreadable expression on his face. I decided it was a bad sign and turned to face him fully. My heart thudded in my chest as my brain raced to figure out just what it was I could have done to piss him off this time.

“Could I have a word Miss West?” Jack said.

It wasn’t really a question.

“Of course.” I replied.

My legs felt wobbly as I followed him to the front of the cabin into an area that was sectioned off as a private office for him. He closed the door behind us to allow some privacy and gestured for me to take a seat. I noticed immediately how much more comfortable the chairs were than in the rest of the cabin.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“Seeing as I’m technically in command of this team, I would appreciate it if you would run things by me before giving orders to everyone.”

“I wasn’t--”

“Giving orders? I beg to differ. You just turned Kyra’s assignment upside down and pulled Gene off of research to participate in your brainstorm and unless I’m mistaken, you gave Tom some rather specific orders regarding equipment for our defense.”

“Okay, you’re right. I’m sorry.” I said.

“It’s not that I don’t want your input and involvement. It’s just that you are still new to all this and it’s my job to make sure everyone is on track with their responsibilities. If you and I are giving conflicting instructions there will be trouble and I don’t think I need to tell you where that trouble will end.”

“No. I’m sorry. I didn’t think through what I was doing and how it might effect you.” I said.

It was strangely easy to apologize to Jack Barker. Most times in my life when I’ve been in a position needing to make an apology I have struggled with it. Not because I wasn’t sincerely apologetic but mostly because of the insufferable gloating that appears in the eyes so often. With Jack there was no gloating or superiority complex just a cool headed reprimand for a mistake. It was simple and easy and although I’m sure he didn’t realize it, in that moment, he won my respect.