The helicopter dropped from the sky, falling like a graceless bird toward the abiding sea. Dana Kirsten clutched her seat, willing her hands to be talons. The aircraft, which had seemed incredibly small in Jamaica, now felt positively minuscule.
Like a coffin .
The pilot nudged the yoke. The roaring machine responded like a spirited horse. The descent stopped less than a hundred feet from the water. The pilot looked at Dana, a plug of chewing tobacco causing his lower lip to protrude like a goiter. "You look scared. I thought you said you liked flying?"
Dana took a breath just to see if her lungs were working. "Flying, yes. Falling, not so much."
He laughed. The chewing tobacco formed a black teardrop on the corner of his mouth. "Wasn't trying to scare you. Well, I wasn't trying just to scare you. Wanted to show you something." He pointed out the right side.
Below her in what had been a seamless sea, a school of bottle-nosed dolphins sliced through the placidity, carving white gashes in the blue-green canvas. Dana counted eight, then spotted another three dorsal fins farther out to the right. One pair swam so close together that, from her vantage point, it looked as if they were touching.
"That's a mama and her baby," the pilot said. "Here, look at this."
He flipped a switch and a monitor that sat between them winked to life. At first she couldn't tell what she was seeing, then as the pilot manipulated a small, pencil-size joystick, the scene changed, revealing a close-up of the sea speeding beneath them.
"I've got a geo-stabilized camera mounted under the bird. I'll be making a regular flyby while you're on the island. Here, you try it. It's easy. Forward is zoom in, back is pull out, left and right are left and right."
Dana maneuvered the joystick. He was right. It was easy. Within seconds she had found and zoomed in on the dolphins. Sure enough, the one on the left, toward the protection of the pod, was significantly smaller than the one on the right. Mama protecting junior from the horrors that emerge from the wild of the sea. "They're incredible."
"Thank you," the pilot said, smiling as if dolphins were his own creation. "Little odd though. Don't usually see them in this area. Got to be at least a dozen miles from the course they usually run."
For a moment Dana wished she had a camera, then realized how silly that was. Once they landed everything she saw, said, or did would be on camera - everything for the next seven weeks.
"You think that's something, watch this." The pilot hit another button. The scene changed to two people gauzed in static. He turned a small knob and the image cleared.
"Not just television." He flipped a switch on the side of the monitor. Voices issued from a tiny speaker. She could hear perfectly but couldn't understand a word.
"Japanese television," he explained.
"That's nice," she said, not sure what response he was looking for.
"And not just Japanese. Chinese, Russian, every television station in creation - I can get them all with this. My brother is in the Navy, works in electronics. He fixed me up with a special satellite dish that will pick up signals others can't. I can watch movies or TV shows from almost anywhere."
"You speak Japanese?"
"Nope, but if I ever learn, I'll have something to watch."
The helicopter overshot the dolphins.
"Do you have to go so fast?" she asked, her stomach still fluttering from their earlier drop.
The pilot dabbed away the teardrop of tobacco with a handkerchief. "You're the one running late."
Running late .
She checked her watch. Late, of course. She hated her watch. Not that there was anything wrong with it. It was a good, durable timepiece. But it always seemed to be mocking her, a jeering, digital reminder of just