By Melissa D.
“I call them zits,” Alan’s voice chirped over the headset radio, each of his words chomped short around the massive wad of chewing gum jammed in his cheek.
“The… islands?” Jade clarified, although of course he was talking about the islands, surfacing as they always did so suddenly in the middle of the ocean, visible testimony to the tectonic turmoil roiling underneath. She leaned over to catch another glimpse as the helicopter banked sharply in a tight curve to circle the protuberance in question, a couple kilometers in diameter and already over a hundred meters above the ocean’s placid surface. A thrill scurried down her spine.
“Yah. We get to study Mother Earth’s zits. Or maybe we should call ‘em… something else that rhymes with zits.” Alan snorted at his own joke, his mouth curved in the easy smirk of seniority.
Jade looked away again, the wind through the open side door tugging her long, dark ponytail in invitation. Almost close enough now.
“But seriously, on geologic timescales I’m right: they’re zits. Those plates down there move a few centimeters a year, and these things pop up in half a month. Lucky for us our planet’s still a pimply teenager, huh?”
“Right,” Jade nodded absently, scanning the island below, matching its map to the one in her visual memory. Egos made for such marvelous distractions; Alan would hardly notice the shaking of her hands as she gripped the camera.
Almost in position.
“What, don’t tell me you’re nervous?” Alan grinned over at her, and Jade swallowed hard, cursing her overestimation of either his ego or its distraction. “All those spook tales of disappearing planes getting to your head?” He shook his, chomping his gum. “I haven’t lost one of you kids yet, and I don’t plan to start.”
Jade managed a nervous chuckle. Irony would have the last laugh.
“Alrighty, get ready to shoot, I’ll pull us around for a good angle. Don’t drop my baby, okay?” He smirked again at Jade and the camera. “It’d take a lot more than a sweet-talking pretty face to get me to forgive you for that.”
Jade forced hers into a smile and looked away again, the cold metal of the pressurized tanks pressing hard into her back even through the padding of her backpack. She’d have to tell intake control to lock this one in as remote a cell as possible. It was a good thing this mission came with a SARA-510 helicopter; the job wouldn’t be worth it for anything less.
The shape of the island below curved finally into position. Jade reached up to tap her hidden earpiece, tucked behind the larger and bulkier headset. “This is Skystone, we’re in position.” She ignored Alan’s sideways glance, and tightened the straps on her pack as she unbuckled her seat’s restraints. “He’s all yours.”
She gritted her teeth, flashed a dazzling smile at her puzzled pilot… and jumped out of the cockpit over the ocean’s laughing waves. With the camera in tow.
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