Evan dove into the clear blue water, leaving the safety of the catamaran behind, and swam deep, adjusting his goggles as he kicked. He felt more than heard his older brother Zack hit the water behind him, then a second hollow splash as Tyler followed. Evan knew he was ahead of the other boys, that he’d find his quarry first, but he also knew in the back of his mind he was the youngest and the smallest, and still had to work the hardest.
As he passed twelve feet, he took a quick peek over his shoulder, pinching his nose and snorting to equalize the pressure. The nearly-transparent Caribbean water allowed him to see that his sixteen-year-old cousin Tyler had already caught and passed fourteen-year-old Zack, another age and size advantage Evan didn’t have.
At eleven, Evan was fortunate enough to still be able to hang out with the older boys...but today was different. He could feel it, something in the warm salty air. He knew this time he’d be the one telling stories over conch ceviche on the beach, the one who’d be the center of attention once he retrieved the first shell from the white sand bottom. He spotted the perfect candidate, partially buried and barely noticeable. Easily the largest anyone would find today. He kicked hard away from the charging Tyler, reaching out with one hand...
Gabriel awoke with a start, jerking his head up from the tattered pillow, and instinctively reached out for his gun. His right hand found it in its customary place, less than two feet from his head, on the peeling laminate of the nightstand. His fingers closed around the Heckart’s worn grip, his neuretic brain implants sending the code to arm and charge the weapon. Every muscle in his body was tensed like steel cord. What the hell woke me up? he thought. Something in the air, some out of the ordinary sound, something over and above the usual Jamaican street buzz.
He sat up in bed, weapon held tightly. The reassuring tingle in his palm indicating the Heckart was armed and fully charged. He peered around, eyes adjusting to the feeble moonlight leaking in the cracked window. Hotel room just as he left it, window opened less than three inches to combat the stifling Caribbean heat, a heat unusual for December. His neuretics fired off a quick burst, confirming none of his motion alarms had been triggered. What was out of place, what caused the sharp reaction?
He debated running a somewhat-risky active scan when the sound of clinking glass wafted in from outside and his eyes darted to the window. Muffled laughter, an old man coughing, the screech of a cat, and more clinking as last night’s Red Stripe bottles were kicked over. More coughing, a muttered patois curse towards the cat, then silence.
He slid noiselessly to the window, staying out of the dust-filled moonbeams piercing the seedy hotel room. Back to the wall, weapon next to his ear, he stole a quick glance outside. His second floor room afforded a sweeping view of the street and its dilapidated buildings. Years ago Jamaica was a tourism mecca, but that had changed drastically since the Dark Days and the ensuing devastation of most low-lying land areas. This Ocho Rios street was a living example of third-world society’s collapse: strewn with garbage, overflowing dumpsters, and countless lost souls looking for the next day’s meal, drink, or narcotic.
Below him, across the street, was a gaunt Jamaican, the upper half of his body bent into a dumpster, refuse flying out behind him as he dug through the mess. At his feet were dozens of empty beer bottles, softly chiming a mournful melody as his bare feet brushed against them. A pathetic-looking cat sat in judgement on the top of the waste container, watching silently, waiting for its chance at scraps.
Gabriel scanned the full length of the street in one direction, then stepped back. Edging to the other side of the window, he repeated the security sweep, weapon at the ready. He switched his left eye to infrared, still wanting to avoid an active scan that may alert another to his presence. Nothing. Just a sad old man, a reflection on the post-Dark Days society in general, had interrupted what may have been his only true sleep in weeks.
He shook his head slowly with a grimace, and moved back to the bed. He checked his neuretics’ passive sensors, and satisfied he was alone, set the safed Heckart on the nightstand. He crawled back into bed, turning the sweat-stained pillow over, and tried desperately to get back into the childhood dream he had woken from.