MeiMei’s face emerged from the water and she gulped air through her nose. Tuan’s hand was still tight over her mouth. She was in a close-feeling cavity, darker than the night itself. She felt Tuan take one of her hands and guide it to a hard, rounded grip. The kayak, she realized. He flipped it over and they were underneath it, inside it.
He spoke calm and low into her ear, “Don’t make any noise, okay? Hold on to that and start swimming straight ahead, pushing it.”
She nodded and he released her. She put both hands on the inverted cockpit rim and started doing a frog kick, pushing the boat along ahead of her. She felt it move faster as Tuan joined his propulsion to hers. In a voice barely loud enough to be heard, she said, “So they spotted us?”
“They were about to, I’d say. They’ll still see us, but I don’t think they’ll pay much attention.”
As he spoke, she saw the dark hull around them glow slightly, the black-painted fiberglass translucent to a powerful spotlight beam. Now that was scary. She almost laughed out loud at that. You’ve been stripped by goons, had a gun shoved down your throat, threatened with undersized rape, chased by water-bikers…and a light was scary? She realized what the light was revealing to the Marines or mafia or whoever was out there: a sleek black shape with dorsal fin, moving forward at about the right speed. She wished they could dive.
“Is that why you put that fin on top?”
“On the bottom, actually. No, it’s an ongoing experiment in hydrodynamics. Find the right size and shape to stabilize your course without interfering with turning. It just happened to end up looking like Flipper. Or a shark fin, I suppose. I hope not.”
Why did that matter, MeiMei wondered. Then it hit her. You’re a bored sailor or cop cruising at night on a wild goose chase, holding a machine gun… and you spot a shark. What do you do?
“Well, actually,” Tuan went on, sensing her tension, “Not ‘just happened to’. The shapes of the natural world obey and utilize the same physical logic as the ones we engineer. Resemblances are hardly co-incidences.”
But MeiMei was still a little hung up on the idea that people might still be trying to gun her down.
“Jesus, they really are looking all over for us. For me, anyway.”
“Go with ‘us’. If they catch you, I’m just going to become an inconvenient bystander. Disposable.”
“Are you serious?”
“Are we swimming in dark seas trying to avoid capture by armed men or did I get it all wrong?”
“And they might just shoot us up anyway. Any second.”
“In the midst of life…”
“This would be a pretty weird place to die.”
“Most people worry more about the time factor.”
“I’m site-oriented. A professional deformity.”
“Well, time’s all relative, anyway.”
And not to change the subject, Tuan thought, but let’s do. “We’re not in the spotlight anymore. I’m going to duck out and take a look-see. Don’t wander off.”
“I’ll be in the forward stateroom. Please send up some tea.”
“Okay, but no entertaining in your room.”
Then he was gone. She could feel the sudden absence of his breath, of the air space his head had occupied. She kept stroking along. I’m the motor of a fake dolphin, she thought. You know who would love this? A quick pang of hurt and memory flashed over her. Damn! Dead in the water. Well, let’s just hope he doesn’t go two for two.
Then Tuan was back. entering the little space silently. “They’ve moved off, but are still too close for us to get righted. We’ll just keep dog-paddling away for awhile. We’ve got all night.”
She kicked along for a few minutes, leaning her head against the underside of the deck while scissoring her legs. Got all night. Great. Then what? She said, “What you said about time being relative? How can that be? I mean in real-world terms?”
Tuan chuckled, glad to see her distracted from their current perils. “You know what Einstein said about a minute on a hot stove seeming like an hour?”
“Did he mention padding underwater while waiting to get shot up?”
“Actually his example was an hour seeming like a minute was kissing a pretty girl.”
She let that hang for a minute. Was she catching this guy’s eye? Well, hardly the time and place for that. Relatively or not. “But how can that be? Time is… well, it’s what the world is organized on.”
“In archaeology textbooks, yes. All those little charts and time lines and dating and all. But not in physics texts, no.”
“But…” she thought about it for a few seconds. Hmm. “But what else is the world structured on?”
“Well, you’ve got your matter, of course. Most people would sort of pick that as what things are built of.”
“And it’s relative, too, right?”
“Both factors of the speed of light. Which is also relative.”
“The Mayans were obsessed with time.”
“So they carved it into stone, right? Tried to nail it down and own it. Can’t be done. I mean in, you know, universal terms.”
“By nailing down matter.”
“The human impulse. Every molecule on earth with its own deed and legal title. Monsanto has patents on biochemicals that occur naturally in the soil.”
She nodded, unseen in the total darkness under the turtled hull. After a minute, Tuan heard her giggle.
“Lots of people find that Monsanto thing funny. I’ve thought about building a stand-up routine around it.”
“No, I was just thinking. We look like a dolphin moving along here. What if some male dolphin sees us and decides to mate with us?”
Tuan laughed softly, glad to see her mood lightening. “So is getting mated by dolphins a big concern for you?” He realized instantly it had been a faux pas.
“Not as much as some people I know,” MeiMei said glumly. “Knew, I guess.”
“The Dolphin Discovery girl?”
“Yeah. Curtsy. And I guess that’s how everybody will think of her. If they ever do. Perfect tombstone epitaph: ‘Dolphin Discovery Girl’.”
But she won’t have a tombstone, will she, MeiMei thought. What was it she said, herself? “If you screw up, you’re crab chow,” wasn’t it? She couldn’t think of that beautiful, lively body sloshed limp across the seabed, nibbled by animals. And reduced to bone, then to calcium dust, she reflected. Pressed down by more of it, becoming part of the limestone slab of the Yucatan. Maybe that was better than being dropped down in a box.
Her silence resounded in the close dark of the inverted hull, and Tuan could guess its source. He hoped he could lift her out of that. Hell, he hoped he could keep her from getting killed in some gruesome way by the remnants of Mexico’s “Perfect Dictatorship.”
He counted off a hundred frog kicks before saying, “You’ve had a really rough time. And it’s going to stay rough for awhile. We’ll be able to turn upright and start paddling pretty soon. And once we make the shore, we’ll blend in to the vacationers along the Kukulkan strip. The further south we get, the easier it’ll be. Once we’re in Belize, you’ll be safe and things are really beautiful. It’s going to get better. Okay?”
“Then what? Can I come back to Mexico? Ever? My work is here. How will I get out of Belize without any money or a passport.”
“I brought a lot of money. Which gets accepted as a passport in a lot of places. Belize has airports and borders with other countries. But don’t worry about that. For now just take it day to day. Hour to hour until daylight, actually.”
Just take it as it comes, she thought. Paddling through paradise with this guy. Not the worst fate in the world. “Thanks, Tuan. Thanks for everything.”
“I told you. You’re my fantasy come true. Thank me once we get out of this in one piece.”
I think that can be arranged, MeiMei thought. She continued to kick steadily, each time she spread her legs wide, then thrust them back together giving her a subtle reminder that Tuan was right behind her. One kick at a time, MeiMei.