Welcome back to another installment of Neeka’s Story, brought to you by my own imagination and the weekly WordPress Discover Challenge. This chapter is
a little a lot ridiculously late, I know, but as I’ve mentioned before, this scene was being so stubborn that it served me better to use my writing time and energy to just skip past it and continue the story until I found just the right prompt to bring me back. (Nevermind that it only worked for a few weeks, and then I stalled out completely… now I’m back!)
When the prompt of Adventure appeared on my birthday, May 31, I knew it was time to get back to this scene. It might not be as grand as the adventure that inspired the Discovery Challenge featured writer Krista that week…
… [S]erial adventurer Drew Robinson … tackles hiking trails at home and abroad. He recalls walking the Camino de Santiago [pilgrimage trail across the north of Spain] and the influence it had on him. His words gave me pause, emphasis [Krista’s]:
That pilgrimage changed me in the most beautiful way. Walking 20 miles a day for a month really gives the mind the freedom it needs to contemplate what’s important.
The wonderful thing about adventure is the sheer range of options: there’s no need to leave home (or even your chair!) to have an adventure if you write, paint, sculpt, draw, compose, or take photographs. Every creative endeavor is an adventure of its own with the chance to change us “in the most beautiful way.”
When I heard “adventure,” my mind jumped to this scene — pretty much the exact opposite of the meditative peace of a 20 mile walk! However, Neeka got a bit more introspective than I expected during her little trek, so maybe I was influenced by Krista’s story. I expect the adventure Neeka and Tolo have in this chapter to be something that changes both of them, though who knows yet in what way.
This scene is going to take place near the beginning of the story, so just to remind you of what has come before (and you can click each link to read that part of the story)…
- There are some vignettes from Neeka’s childhood and early adulthood that give you some backstory on her character.
- Neeka attended an illegal UAV (drone) race at a huge shopping mall that was closed for the night, and came in second.
- She met the guy who came in first, they had a chat, and then they decided to go for a walk.
- They “somehow” ended up in a closed hotel water park nearby and chatted some more as they wandered around the pools.
After this, of course, Neeka does some more things, but you can go to the Neeka’s Story page to find the next chapter.
I’ll repost the tail end of the last scene, where they’ve been hacking a terminal at the bottom of a waterslide, and then the new writing begins after the * * * stars. 🙂 Also as always, today’s artist credit is at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!
Reflexively, Neeka shied backward as Tolo reached for her shoulder bag carrying her UAV, stepping out of his reach. Tolo saw the movement and reacted just as quickly. “Hey, sorry,” he said, smiling sheepishly and pulling his hand back lightning-fast. “That was dumb. I should have asked first. I was thinking I could put the bag by the door while you get up the stairs to program the TIE, unless that’s a waterproof bag…?” He trailed off.
It wasn’t, and Neeka had only vaguely been thinking about how she’d safeguard the UAV when she’d come up with this crazy plan to go down the waterslide. “Ah,” she hedged, while she instantly debated the two likely scenarios in her head — either this had all been a ruse for this guy to steal her second-place UAV, and he was about to run off with her prized possession; or, more likely, he was a nice guy just wanting to help, and he was going to set the bag by the door as he said, and meet her at the top of the slide.
She wasn’t naive, and there were few circumstances when she would willingly let this bag out of her sight. But as she glanced at the control board and read Tolo’s code again, she could clearly see how his code was going to work with a TIE she could set up to let them pull this off without getting caught, and she decided to take the risk.
“All right,” she said, shrugging the strap over her head and pushing the bag holding her UAV toward him. “You’d better meet me up there, or I swear to all the elven gods I’ll find you,” she said, but she grinned at him to take the sting out of the threat. Tolo looked relieved as he took the bag, and then Neeka was sprinting away up the stairs and leaving him to set up the getaway route.
* * * * *
The stairwell, unlike many of the other staircases that sprawled throughout the park making riders span rope bridges and pass beneath waterfalls, was a breezy column of tight switchbacks rising steadily upward five stories, and she lost sight of Tolo on the ground below almost immediately. On each landing she passed a maintenance door in the wall, but if she’d read the configuration right (and she knew she had), the secondary control podium had to be at the top of the slide.
With one part of her mind she started compiling the TIE code she would use to connect with Tolo’s RPGG in the waterpark system, to first lock all the doors except their escape route, then override any backup cameras that would trigger when the ride was turned on, and finally turn on the waterslide itself, but this hotel obviously wasn’t a “high value target” and the systems were laughably unsecured against hackers. That gave her mind a chance to wander to her partner-in-petty-crime as she climbed.
He was certainly handsome, she considered. Human, Asian descent, probably a year or two her junior, not overly built, code genius, and tech savvy if that vglass hardware he’d shown off earlier was any indication. But he was a pilot, and that was a giant black mark against him — every other time she’d tried to date a fellow pilot, things had gotten… complicated. Races had turned from friendly competitions into bitter fights, UAV parts had been “borrowed” or broken, air-groupies got too handsy with one or the other of them, and inevitably, since Neeka was always the better flyer, they broke up and her ex-partner left this underground scene to find another that was less “hostile” (as her last girlfriend had so colorfully put it).
All of that was bound to happen again, of course, but with the way Tolo had outflown her earlier, what if she had to be the one to leave the scene or risk making it awkward? She would certainly never give up racing altogether, but this was the premier illegal underground league of the area, as they took great pains to arrange the choicest venues all over the city (the closed megamall was just the latest of risky and cool tracks). It was the place to be if you ever wanted to make it to the big show, and Neeka very much did want that.
And it wasn’t like she was on the bench in the sex department. She had flings, and sometimes she and Arlyn shared a bed when they wanted comfort and companionship, and sometimes Arlyn’s polymours joined them when Neeka wanted more. So what was she doing out here tonight? Why had she taken this boy up on his offer of a walk, and why had she suggested they pull a teenage prank like this, to ride down a waterslide in the middle of the night in a closed waterpark?
She reached the top landing, five stories up, and came out on a large platform that was hidden from anyone on the ground by fake boulders, palm trees, and other vegetation, all artfully arranged for the vacationers that usually climbed these stairs. It reminded her of the part of the mall course earlier when they’d flown over the painted wall and fake trees of the mini golf course, and even though she’d missed the bonus medallion there, Neeka smiled.
So he’d beaten her one time, she thought. It wasn’t a big deal, nor the end of her racing career, or even the first time she’d been beaten this season. He’d used the fraction-of-a-second-warning she’d given him about the dead end when she had been in the lead, and had pulled up at the same time as she had, to race back down that corridor. She hadn’t been able to retake the lead, but she’d been close, and already had a few tweaks in mind to ensure that didn’t happen next time.
Now, however, it was time to stop navel gazing and start coding.
She blinked on her virtual display and airjacked the waiting podium just as she had below, and began routing the systems she would need to link to Tolo’s RPGG code — ah, there it was, waiting for her — to the TIE she had half-programmed during the climb up here. Switch there, spoof this and this, mirror a few more lines, and…
The ramp that lead down into the dark entry tube of the slide, which had been burbling quietly beside her with just a trickle of water that ran continuously through the system, suddenly sputtered to life as the water jets turned on full-force.
Multicolored lights started strobing down the tube, and just at that moment, Tolo appeared at the top of the stairs and gave a celebratory whoop as he watched the slide roar into action. “Wow, well done! It worked!” he said, grinning at her. His steps brought him right up to Neeka and she blinked off most of her display, setting her hands on her hips. She noticed that he was just slightly out of breath from the five story climb, and wondered if he’d sprinted.
“What, you doubted me?” she asked, quirking her lips in a smirk. The countdown running in the top corner of her vision read four minutes.
“Oh — no, not at all,” Tolo replied, eyes wide as he extended his hand to her. “In fact, I think we make a pretty good team. How cool is this? We’ve got a waterslide!”
Neeka found his enthusiasm contagious and took his hand, grinning, and then a sound of rubber-on-rubber drew both of their gazes to the pile of two-person, single-seat rubber rafts in the corner of the platform. More rafts were starting to stack up as they were carried up the now-running conveyor belt from the park floor, and Tolo shifted his fingers slightly and squeezed her hand.
“Ah, I’ll get it,” he said, then reluctantly pulled away from her, not releasing her hand until he had to or he would have pulled her with him. He stepped over to a wall screen and manually turned off the conveyor belt to stop the backup of rafts, and then grabbed one by the handle and dragged it over to the flashing slide entrance. He dropped it on the floor and then grabbed Neeka’s hand again and pulled her over to the railing to look out at the park. The countdown read 3:30.
From this vantage point, they could see the whole of the waterpark sprawled beneath them by the ambient nightlights, the pools below glowing like the pictures she’d seen in school of the continent from space, the huge independent corp cities shining yet separated by narrow strips of darkness between. Colorful, twisting tubes and slides intertwined in the air, and the combination gift shop and life jacket stand crouched like a great sleeping beast near the doors leading into the hotel proper. There were pools for swimming, pools for waves, and pools where each slide let out, all calm except for the one they would land in, which was now frothing and bubbling as the water from the top of the slide reached the bottom and the pool’s own hidden water jets added to the turbulence.
“The mall was cool, but this…” Tolo murmured from beside her, and after a moment, she turned to look at him as he turned to look at her.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it,” Neeka said, as she met and held Tolo’s eyes. “It’s pretty special, I think.”
They stood there holding hands and looking at each other for a moment, the sounds of the rushing water beside them competing with a roaring that was slowly building in Neeka’s ears, until the numbers in the corner of her vision started flashing 3:00.
“Oh, we’ve gotta go now!” Neeka said, squeezing Tolo’s hand and turning to the raft and slide entrance. “According to the specs, it takes eighty seconds to get down the slide, and we’ve only got just over double that before the doors and cameras reboot.”
Not for the first time since this whole thing had started, Neeka was grateful she’d chosen to wear flat sandals with her leggings and layered blouse, and not something fancier that she might ruin with this crazy stunt. She stepped up beside the knee-high slide ramp and helped Tolo maneuver the two-person inflatable raft into position, and then held it back while he clambered on to one side.
When Tolo was settled and was hanging on to the railing to keep the raft from leaving without her, Neeka gingerly climbed in next to him, the two of them laughing the whole time as they bumped limbs and shoulders and even heads once, bringing their faces closer together than they had yet been during what Neeka now conceded was definitely a date. And probably the most interesting first date she could remember, she had to admit, feeling her face heat up a little as she met his eyes again.
Tolo braced them with his cybernetic arm clutching the railing and shifted his other arm to go around behind Neeka, pulling her tight against him. “We’re gonna be soaked, you know,” he laughed, then looked down the dark maw of the slide before looking back at her, biting his lip in mock agitation. “Ready?”
“As ready as ever, I guess, and now we only have two minutes — let’s go!” she cried, and reached across him to tug his augmented hand away from the railing. The raft started to bob and drift, almost in slow motion at first, before it found the current and took off like a shot down the slide. Neeka found herself clutching the handle of the raft with one hand and Tolo’s arm with the other to stay seated.
The strobe lights flashed down the tunnel to illuminate their way as both Neeka and Tolo’s shrieks of excitement echoed down what was a narrow tube, at first only sloping slightly downward, but which gave way to a huge drop as the tunnel opened up and allowed the raft to sway back and forth up the sides of the slide. A wave of water rushed before them, pushed by the raft, and more water sloshed into the raft from all sides.
Their momentum carried them back up a small rise in the tube, and then jets met them as they hit a near right-angle bend, shooting them forward with speed. The tube around them narrowed again and suddenly became transparent, and they found themselves suspended stories above the park below as they coasted down an almost flat section of the slide. They only had a few moments to appreciate the view, however, when the slide turned again and seemed to lead straight into the solid, dark wall of the building.
Neeka shrieked and laughed again as they hurtled through the wall, the slide tube still transparent, and came out the other side, as they now arced around the hotel itself in a part of the slide that hung suspended outside of the building. The slope became less pronounced and they lost speed coming around the curve and corner of the building, and off in the distance in front of them, the megamall where they’d had their race loomed in the darkness and sparse lighting of the parking lots surrounding it. Neeka only had time to see it, look at Tolo who was nodding his head enthusiastically that he also saw the spectacle, and then look back at it again before another stomach-lurching drop surprised her and shot them back into the building and above the waterpark once more.
The transparent tube soon became opaque and flashing with strobe lights as the slide widened again, curving in a wide circle until Neeka thought they must have gone around a full 360 degrees. Then the tube abruptly emptied into a large, sloping, open area with a hole in the center that reminded her of a giant sink drain, and they both laughed again and caught their breath as the raft swirled, first around the outside of the bowl and then heading steadily for the hole in the center, that she could see lead to another tube and the rest of the slide.
“Are you kiddin’ me…?!” Tolo yelled as they fell down the drain and shot through another wide tube that steadily narrowed and sent them plummeting down a series of drops and slight rises, bouncing them around so much Neeka wasn’t sure if he was clinging to her to keep her in the raft beside him, or just to keep himself in the raft beside her.
They weren’t really that wet yet, Neeka thought briefly, enjoying the ride and the feeling of Tolo next to her, when as if she had summoned it by the thought, they passed beneath a massive waterfall that dumped gallons of water onto their heads and into their raft, soaking them to the bone. They both shrieked once again, and Tolo half-turned to her to ask, “Hey, I was just –!” He was cut off as they passed beneath a smaller but no-less soaking waterfall, and Neeka laughed. “Just — just thinking they probably –!” Tolo continued, but yet another waterfall reduced him to laughing and sputtering with her, and he gave up.
Neeka looked ahead and saw that the way looked pretty clear until they hit the next turn in the tunnel, and there was no telling what would be around the bend, but as the countdown now read 1:00, she knew they must be nearing the end of their wild ride. She made another impulsive decision.
“Hey,” she said, turning her shoulders so she was better able to face him. As soon as she had Tolo’s attention, she leaned over and kissed him, gently at first, but grateful when he deepened the kiss and pulled her tighter against his side.
He tasted like the chlorinated water they were both soaked with, but it was still a great kiss, and Neeka didn’t even care that they were no longer watching where they were going. She felt them hit the next turn in the slide and braced herself for another drop, but instead, the slide dropped a fourth torrential waterfall on their raft, soaking them both once again and dissolving their kiss as the pair of them dissolved into giggles.
“Not cool, man!” Tolo shouted at the slide itself as Neeka laughed and tucked herself closer to his side, and then the expected drop came, and they hurtled down a wide, steep section that then curved again and swung them around a hairpin turn. Then suddenly, the slide around them vanished and they were dumped out into the waiting landing pool. Luckily, they both stayed in the raft as they glided through the bubbling jets that were pointed at them under the water to slow their momentum, and eventually they gently bobbed to a stop next to the pool’s wide stairs leading up and onto dry land once more.
“That was –” Neeka began, grinning at Tolo, who finished her thought.
“Amazing! I know!” he said, hugging her tightly before leaping gracefully from the raft and holding it steady for her to do the same. “We should go again!”
Neeka shook her head and smiled, noting the countdown now read 45 seconds as she climbed out of the raft as well. “No can do, sweetie,” she began, but just at that moment, they heard loud pounding on the doors of the waterpark that lead into the hotel proper. “They know we’re here, and we’ve got less than a minute before we’re busted by the cameras.”
They waded out of the pool and up the steps, and just as she’d planned, they had a straight shot down the path to an emergency exit door that lead out into the parking lot and out to freedom. Neeka had her eyes closed as she was shaking out her short hair and wringing out her shirt as best she could, and when she opened them, Tolo had disappeared from beside her. She glanced around in confusion for a moment before he appeared again, with a pair of large, scratchy towels.
“Here,” he said, giving her a brilliant smile as she took one and threw it around her shoulders. “So,” he began, “I figure they’ll probably have their sec-team backtrace our code route, so I could jump back on and leave a ghost –”
Neeka laughed again, and briefly wondered when the last time she’d laughed so much had even been, before shoving Tolo playfully down the path and toward the door, away from the podium at the bottom of the stairs that they had hacked to begin this whole escapade. “Less talking, more running!” she said, spying her UAV case sitting right where she expected it to be, against the exit door. “Time’s up!”
Tolo took the hint and they both started running down the path. He dropped behind her just a bit as they reached the door so she could grab her case as she shouldered the door open, just as a loud clicking began to echo around the park, freeing all the doors and letting the sec-team in on the opposite side. They heard shouts and orders to stop, but Neeka and Tolo just giggled and started running faster through the shadowy, half-empty parking lot, both of them still clutching the cheap towels so as not to leave too much traceable evidence behind.
When they’d gotten to the main road and heard the shouts from behind them finally dying down (the sec-team wasn’t paid to leave their premises), they ducked around a closed restaurant and started heading back toward the megamall, both winded but with that adrenaline-fueled glow that Neeka loved.
“All right,” Neeka said as they slowed to a walk, finding Tolo’s hand as he gave her a surprised look. “I’ve got a train to catch heading back to the east side… going my way?” she asked, adjusting the strap of the UAV case over her head with her other arm.
Tolo looked away, grimacing. “Ah, I’m heading west, I’m afraid,” he said, and for a moment it looked like he would say something else, but instead he stopped suddenly, and Neeka’s forward momentum was arrested as he pulled her back into his arms and kissed her.
Standing, he was slightly taller than she was, and Neeka braced herself with a hand on his chest, the other thrown over Tolo’s shoulder as he’d swept her into his arms. He placed one hand on her hip and his other hand snaked under the strap of the UAV to the small of her back, and this was more than her stolen kiss on the waterslide — she was able to taste him instead of chlorine, and feel his skin through the fine material of his drying shirt.
They broke apart, both a little breathless, and Neeka smiled up at him. “Am I going to see you again?” she asked softly.
“Definitely,” he said, glancing directly at her cybernetic eye and then smiling at her again. “I’ll give you my EM address?”
Neeka blinked on her virtual display and quickly quashed the panic that rose in her when she saw how late/early it was since she still had to work the next day, and then looked up at Tolo expectantly. As he gave her the EM, she tapped her fingers against his chest to enter the info into her contacts, automatically putting it in the hidden dark file where she kept all her race contacts.
“All right, I got it, and I sent you a ping so you’ve got mine,” she said, and reluctantly pulled away from him. “But now I really gotta get that train.”
“Yeah, I’m late too. Well… this was…” he said, stalling out as he swung his hand back toward the waterpark in an effort to take in their whole night.
“I know. It was great. Take care,” Neeka said, stretching up to kiss him quickly again before pulling away. She took off at a run across the lot and started sprinting down the narrow road that would bring her to the maglev station and eventually home, although she’d be lucky to grab a couple hours of sleep before she had to be up and off to work anyway.
She did turn back to see Tolo watching after her for a few moments before he took off as well, heading in the direction of the megamall. Neeka wondered briefly how he would be getting back to the west side, which was a far more affluent side of the city than where she lived, but once she heard the train horn ahead of her as it pulled into the station still a half a block away, she couldn’t worry about it anymore, and she ran full-out to make her train.
Continue the tale in the next chapter, Tuesday Discover Challenge: Witness in the sky…
(just remember that these chapters were all written out-of-order, so if later chapters are missing details, they will be fixed in the rewrite!)
This post is copyright © Jamie Lyn Weigt. All rights reserved. Please do not share without credit and a direct link back to this post and my site, writingdragonsblog.com.
Today’s dragon art is called CE – Battle of the Dragons: Water Dragon by the supremely talented American deviantartist Auri. This image was entered into a contest at some point, and while it didn’t win, it was perfect for my story today, I think! Auri has a great gallery filled with lifelike, commissioned portraits of fantasy characters that you simply must see, as well as another entry for this dragon contest that did win, called Onyx Dragon. Go check her out, and thanks for reading!