Excerpt from Come Dancefight, My Beloved Enemy
Your tuxedo bunches up in the armpits as you jam a harpoon gun down the throat of a mechanical shark. The Caribbean is too warm for a drysuit, much less a tux, but you, of course, are wearing both. The mechalodon thrashes again. This time its camera-eyes get a good look at you. It’s hard to see through the cloud of sparks and bubbles when you pull the trigger, but you could swear the damn thing winks.
Which confirms your suspicions. The secret masters of this seaborne luxury arcology are self-styled techno-pirates who masquerade as wealthy libertines alongside the other residents. Guard sharks do fit the piracy motif, but robot guard sharks are classic Zuleikha. So she did escape from Skopje after all.
The crackling robot twirls away into the midnight-blue abyss, taking your empty harpoon gun with it.
You glance at your chronometer. The blinking red display shows only a minute and thirty seconds until the intake conduit activates. Damn. The robot took longer to dispatch than it should have. You’re getting slower these days.
All the more incentive to finish this one last job and leave the business while you still can. Sleeping with one eye open isn’t as exciting as it used to be.
The conduit pulls in coolant water for the power plant and secret microwave pulse generators used to assault offshore data havens like Sealand and Canary II. You retrieve the plasma torch from your belt. As gobbets of white-hot steel pop and fizz on their way down to the abyss, following the shark, you amend your priorities.
One: Retrieve the stolen quantum encryption keys before the pirates open your bank account and plunder your retirement savings.
Two: Destroy the lair on your way out. This is de rigueur. Professional pride demands it, especially for your swan song.
Three: Avoid Zuleikha at all costs.
Crazy she might be, but she’d never forget who left her for dead in a Macedonian abattoir. Any sane person would agree she deserved it after what she did to you in Quito — your shoulder has never been the same — but Zuleikha wasn’t blessed with a sense of perspective.
At a minute-five, only two tangs hold the grate over the conduit. One tang remains at oh-forty-five. The grate falls away with twenty-eight seconds remaining.
The intake activates twenty-five seconds early.
You’re still hooking the torch back on your belt when the entire ocean tries to hurl itself through the conduit, and you along with it. A sharp edge slices your cheek.
Your air cylinder catches on the lip of the pipe. The straps dig in to your shoulders as the titanic inflow tries to pull you into the guts of the arcology. But the cylinder won’t budge.
You claw at a strap and manage to pull it around your elbow and off your arm. The current sucks your free arm over your head. The remaining strap squeezes tighter than ever.
Scrunch. The world turns black, then red, as you dislocate your shoulder. It takes focus not to retch into your regulator. You take one last full breath, wrangle your limp arm out of the strap with your good hand, and then you’re bodysurfing through the conduit. The light on your mask illuminates only the immediate edges of the pipe, leaving your destination in blackness.