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I had some time to kill, and an internet connection, so I used my VPN account to hop through a few obscure servers throughout the world, just in case, and used a VoIP service located in India to call a number I memorized earlier. 

“Hey, it’s me…” I said. “I need a ride.” There was a delay sufficiently long to be qualified as an awkward silence.

“Tell me where.” 

I gave her the directions.

“Anything you want me to bring? Do you need food, or something? Sunshades, maybe?”

“No, I’m good. Oh, wait.” I hadn’t thought of it earlier, but realized right at that moment that I felt guilty about involving her into the dangerous adventure again, which was about to get seriously more dangerous soon. I wanted to let Tia know what she’s getting into, and give her a way out, without being condescending or offensive. So I said the first suitable thing that came to mind. “Make sure you have enough room for a sniper rifle in your trunk. I’ll explain later.” Now that should get her thinking… 

“Ohka-a-ay….” Tia said doubtfully, but did not refuse my request, which was good enough for me. At least she got the idea now that she would not be driving me to a picnic. And if she shows up – Tia would know she’s taking an unknown risk joining me again.

Next order of business was a bit more difficult. I had a chat with the AI about secure communications that resulted in spinning up  a sort of a virtual machine running modified Android AI OS (I suspect that alien AI didn’t like the name resemblance, but I might be reading too much into its voice). I installed Marc’s favourite secure messenger on it and initiated a voice call. I had to wait for a bit, but eventually Marc picked up. 

“Who’s this?”

“Hey, Marc. It’s me, Art. Listen, are you busy now? I have a little project for you, very urgent.”

“What’s the pay? Or are you asking for a favour?”

“Well, the pay is the largest you ever got: if the project is successfully concluded – you get to live. If it fails – you get to die in a spectacular nuclear explosion. If you’re lucky. Or from radiation sickness or hunger later – if you’re not. How’s that for you?”

“OK. You got me interested. What do you need?”

“See if you can find the location, speed and heading of a Russian Neopanamax class container ship Azov, and calculate when it’s expected to be within 500 kilometers of the East Coast cruising at its average speed. Also, try to find the ship’s specs, look up its top speed, and give me the estimate at its top speed too. If you could locate the ship’s plan it would be fantastic.” 

“OK, you got it. I need some time. How long do I have?”

“A couple of hours, maybe three. After you get that information, please do the same for the ship called “Arabella IV”, heading towards the port of Ashdod in Israel. I need best and worst case scenarios for it getting within 100 kilometers from the Israeli coast. 

“All right. I’m on it. Talk to you soon…” 

Marc disconnected.

Some time had passed and I finally saw the lake I’d chosen for landing. It was the closest decently sized lake to my destination. I lowered the throttle a bit and ran through the “before landing” checklist with some help from the AI. After a minute or two the flaps were down and the plane was set for landing, as far as I could tell from the flight manual that I was studying on my way here. The speed started to bleed off from about 140 knots to something closer to the landing speed of 78 knots, while the plane was slowly losing altitude. I kept the speed a bit higher than recommended, to allow myself some margin for error, in case I don’t catch the plane losing speed in time to prevent a catastrophic stall. I could afford a really long landing distance, being only limited by the length of the lake. 

I made a low pass over the lake, to check for boats and other obstructions. Fortunately, the boating season hadn’t started yet, so the lake was empty, despite many cottages occupying its shores. I revved the throttle and pulled up when I was closing to a small beach at the end of the lake.  

I made a wide circle around the lake and began a slow and careful landing approach. I was sweating profusely, but there was no time to wipe my eyes. I had to ceaselessly check my position, vertical speed, airspeed, horizon and heading. I’m fairly sure I would have crashed, if not the AIs help: I have asked it to virtually project a “flight director” guidance on the windshield. It was much easier to see if I was doing something wrong and immediately correct that, with its help.

I started the final approach, descending down the glideslope and trying not to miss the lake. I tried to control the airspeed with the yoke movements, and vertical speed with the throttle lever, and at times I thought that I am getting overwhelmed and almost decided to push the throttle and go around. But I was able to stabilize the descent and soon the seaplane was soaring over the calm waters of the lake. I tried to keep it in the air as long as I could, almost touching the water, and just as I heard the stall horn moaning, the plane touched the water. 

Shit, I missed the moment I needed to flair, but the speed was low enough not to ruin my landing. It was rough but eventually I slowed down to a motorboat speed, and running at low power proceeded to the beach. Fortunately, the water was still too cold to swim, so the beach was virtually empty. There was one family there, sitting in their camping chairs, gawking in disbelief at the old seaplane approaching the beach head on. 

I didn’t try anything fancy, because I didn’t know how, so I literally beached the plane shutting down the engine as the floats became stuck in the sand. 

At the top of the beach, I saw a sole figure standing near the large streamlined sport Kawasaki e-bike, which was black as a raven, holding a helmet under her arm. 

Now, that was not something I expected. 

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