“He smelled familiar, like the ache in your chest of homesickness, or longing for harbor after weeks of rough seas or craving a fire’s warmth after snow–or wanting back something you should never have given away.” ― Josh Lanyon, The Dark Tide
Gloria watched from the bow of the Dragon Ship as twilight settled over the water. The Marmara Sea ushered her and the captain passed the Maiden’s Tower islet and into the maw of the Bosphorus Strait. Their fate waited across the Black Sea thirty-two kilometers ahead.
The region was home to her captain; Raul, a Romanian man whose love she had never relinquished. She thought of him now. The constant pain of self-doubt vanished in his arms. Shivers raced across her chest and arms as she recalled his wild passion played out on her body like a virtuoso in his grand finale.
They set sail from Illa de Arousa located on the northwest coast of Spain. The distant port of embarkation was necessary to ensure their security and throw off anyone on their tail. The ship made way through the straits of Gibraltar; a giant sentinel of stone and navigated the Alboran Sea passed Malta into her beloved Mediterranean. They sailed north through the isles of Greece and the narrow Gallipoli channel and headed straight for the Bosphorus. Gloria couldn’t remember a mission that started off so romantic as this one.
She hoped it was her last mission in the Cybrid War. She wanted to sail in her captain’s arms until her life’s energy was spent.
* * *
A faint glow hovered above the water of the Bosphorus strait. The ancient structures of Constantinople blended with more modern buildings of Istanbul in the distance. A growl drifted across the channel and echoed off the boats tugging at their anchors in the wake of a black ship with red trim snaking its way through the night.
The moon and stars failed to illuminate the sleek shape as it cuts through the water throwing off a bioluminescent glow at the bow from the agitated plankton. The ink-black clouds above provided the shield of darkness the ship needed for its nefarious mission.
Up ahead the Bosphorus bridge was all aglow with blue lighted towers and the roadway that glittered with gold from the streetlights. The captain held one hand on the joystick and the other on the control panel. The instrument panel lit up a bearded face with deep-set black eyes, a broad nose, and lips scarred by countless fights. He looked out at the figure on the deck. The light shining out of the cabin reflected from the translucent skin of a woman.
Gloria held on to the rail and looked out at the darkness, motioning to change speed or course to the captain, guiding him through the dark. His surface radar danced with noise reflections from the bluffs of the narrow strait and other vessels. The clutter on the display made his radar and sonar almost worthless. Years of experience kept him from turning them off even though he trusted the woman on his bow.
Strict discipline ruled Raul’s life. Still, he’d be damned if he could prevent the ghosts of memories from entering his mind. The captain thought about how Gloria looked and felt when they were young. Now, his hair was more gray than black. She didn’t look like she aged much since he last made love to her years ago. How he missed those days. Raul calculated in his mind how he could rekindle their affair as he watched for signals.
The breeze created by the ship’s progress toward the Black Sea chilled Gloria’s synthetic skin. She ignored the nip of night air and sought to gain a steady footing in the well of the bow instead. A finger reached for a spot on her wrist to turn up the heat of her endoskeleton. The newer generation of endoskeleton had fused with her flesh and flexible synthetic skin. She had created a body outline that kept her looking young. It wasn’t enough. It didn’t give back all she’d lost. It was an illusion that served her well.
The senior Dragon Sentinel watched the shipping lane and fumed at the thought she was more Cybrid than the ones she hunted. She had become one of them. The irony of her fate wasn’t lost on her. If not for the technology that created the Cybrids, she would be dead, which she thought was a kinder fate than the one she lived.
The binoculars held to her eyes cast a white hue to everything she surveyed. The red laser dot from the lens floated in her vision as time and distance readings counted down in the viewer. The boat weaved its way through the channel passed military vessels, container ships, and fishing trawlers. Gloria continued to point and call for course corrections. Raul executed his orders without question. The same way he always had.
The rush of air across her skin registered in her mind. It was freedom from the strange feel of clothes and armor she frequently wore on such missions. She preferred the nakedness. Her synthetic skin flooded her with tactile feedback. She needed to feel that, she thought. Besides, she had to know her endo, as she called it, was working at optimum levels, and this was the best way to test it. Too bad she couldn’t go like this all the time, she mused with a sultry smile.
Gloria held her position through the night as they made their way across the Black Sea to Georgia looking for a stretch of wooded shore north of Poti. The sun came up illuminating the stern of the boat in a band of crimson like a splash of blood from the flailing wrist of the Titaness Eos, Goddess of the Dawn.
Raul watched with tired eyes as Gloria lifted a cushion and took out one of his old T-shirts from the storage bin and slipped it over her head. The tail hung just below the curve of her bottom filling his mind with a forgotten hunger. The sunlight wafting through the clouds gave her skin a dark red hue with yellow-brown highlights like wheat reflecting the sun on a windblown field. He watched as she made her way to him with cat-like agility.
Raul opened the door to the pilothouse and let her in. Gloria wrapped her arms around him and pressed her body against his. She nestled her face against his chest, feeling his warmth after a long night in the chill air. The Sentinel inhaled a deep breath and purred like someone enjoying a long awaited meal. For a moment, he hesitated before he allowed the door to close. Raul ran his hands under the cotton T-shirt feeling the smooth skin of her back.
“Thank you, Raul. You did an excellent job.”
“It was your expert navigation that got us here so quick, my love. Normally it isn’t a good idea to navigate these waters at night.”
“That is why I wanted us to do it at night. The world sleeps, and we sneak past them.”
“Well, I think we make a great pair of sneakers.”
Gloria laughed at Raul’s play on words. He pulled her closer and kissed the top of her head.
“Why don’t you put the boat on autopilot and let’s grab a few hours of sleep. We’ll need to be fresh when we hit the coast tonight.” Gloria spoke in her smoky alto voice that made Raul forget his age.
“I’m going below to freshen up and go to bed. You should do the same; you smell like diesel oil, cigarettes, and day old sex.”
“Yes, my love. I guess too much time has passed. I’d forgotten what we smelled like together.”
“Gloria glanced over her shoulder and retorted, “hurry up and we can make some fresh memories.”
Raul programmed in the course and speed settings. He turned on the anticollision system and made his way down the steps to the captain’s suite. Raul could hear the shower running and a faint melody from behind the door. She still sang in the shower like before; he chuckled.
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