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The Super

Written by Bud Sparhawk
Illustrated by: Jennifer Miller

Sailors call everything below fifty degrees, south latitude, the Southern Ocean, even though technically, that name only applies to the water around Antarctica. Ocean temperatures there vary from about ten degrees Celsius to minus two and, when winter comes to the southern hemisphere, the water freezes as far north as sixty degrees.

Year round, eastward cyclonic storms containing the strongest average winds found anywhere on Earth rage across the water, forcing waves as high as fifteen meters or more. It is the most dangerous body of water on the planet.

When summer comes to the southern hemisphere the irresistible lure of the Southern Ocean as the shortest way across all Earth's longitudes draws sailors into her depths. But it's not just the shortest path around the world; it's also the route Louella and Pascal were taking to get to Jupiter.

* * *

Louella was so cold that she could barely feel her fingers wrapped around the thin safety line. She concentrated on maintaining her hold. With a moment's loss of attention, a second's relaxation of her grip, or any slip of her boot, and she could slide into frigid waters that would drain the heat—and the life—from her in a matter of minutes.

The ice-slick bottom of her boat, Mistrial, rolled slowly as another wave passed. She pressed her foot hard against the keel that stuck up beside her like the fin of a monstrous shark. Her position was precarious. Every shift of her weight on the overturned boat was dangerous.

It had been so long since she last had a drink. Her mouth felt as if it were stuffed with dry cotton. As the boat crested the next wave she saw a range of mountains on the horizon and wondered if the mountains' melting snows produced crystal clear streams of the purest water. Her cracked lips parted at the thought.

Had it only been a day and a half since her boat had been flipped by the storm? How many hours had it been since she'd last slept?

The mountains had to be imaginary, just like the fleet of phantom liners that had steamed past hours before with their ball-gowned and tuxedoed passengers lining the rails and laughing at her.

The phantoms didn't disturb her. Hallucinations were an expected part of these extended, single-hand races. The mountains and liners were probably more vivid because of her sleep deprivation, her burning thirst, and the piercing, biting, eroding cold that burrowed through her survival suit and crept into her bones.

There was a splash and an Orca surfaced, water streaming down its glistening black body as it nosed onto the edge of the hull.


"I say, old girl," the Orca said politely in British English. "Do you need a spot of help?"

* * *

George Franchard's radio call woke Pascal from his four-hour nap, hours before it was expected. George's boat was over a hundred kilometers west and quite a bit north of Pascal's current position.

"Louella's in trouble," George said without preamble. "We think she's twelve hundred kilometers southeast of your location. Her emergency beacon's been beeping for a couple of hours."

Pascal swore as he studied the readings George sent him. The course he had plotted for his own boat, Mon Ami, was to have taken him around Antarctica on a more northerly route, not deep below latitude forty-nine so early in the circuit. What the devil was that damned Louella doing, going below fifty-five where the EPIRB was insisting it was located?

"Is there no one closer?" he asked hopefully.

"I'm too far north and east to be able to help her," George explained. "And we haven't been able to contact Randy Holiday."

"Yeah, I haven't heard from Randy for a couple of days either," Pascal replied. Randy's silence wasn't unusual, since the race boats frequently dropped out of VHF range and more often were below the line of sight for a satellite link.

"I'm turning toward her location, but Mon Ami is closer," George continued. "I'll shadow, but you'll reach her long before I will."

"What about air rescue or the navy?"

"Look at the weather map. There's a storm swinging south of Perth, Adelaide hasn't got an operational plane, and Mistrail's too damn far from Christchurch."

Pascal knew that George was right. None of the land-based rescue crews could reach Louella until the storm passed, and that might take more time than she had if anything serious had happened to her boat. Although George hadn't said so, the chances of there being a navy vessel nearby ranged from slight to none.

"Merde!" As much as he disliked diverting his course and sacrificing race time, it wasn't a matter of choice. Nor did it matter that Louella was his potential sailing partner for the Jupiter race. He knew that the nearest boat was always obligated to help any sailor who was in trouble, just as he'd want someone to rush to his aid should he find himself in danger. This was a rule all sailors had abided by since the dawn of time.

Pascal leaned over the navigation table and plotted the fastest route to Louella's last known location. With a little luck and being able to maintain a steady eighteen knots, he should be able to reach her in three days. But after that much exposure to the freezing weather the chances that she'd still be alive were not even slim.

Worse, he wouldn't even find a body if an Orca got to it first, damn her risk-taking hide. He was as concerned about her safety as he was mad at her making him lose time.

A glance at the latest weather map told him that there was, as George had said, a typhoon swinging south of Australia that would block any rescue from there. Unless it changed course the typhoon would track north of the route he could take. Weather to the southwest looked clear, although one could never be certain in the Southern Ocean where storms could blow up in an instant.

Mon Ami was flying under full sail with three hundred square meters of main sail, ninety on the staysail, another hundred on the jib that he'd tied down on the foredeck, and two hundred in the balloon spinnaker that caught the breeze coming across the boat's stern.

He would have loved to see Ami sailing like this from afar, with all the sails. It had to be a beautiful sight. Instead he had to stand in the cockpit, staring along Ami's twenty-three-meter length or checking the wind indicator atop her forty-meter mast.

Mon Ami was a standard Open 70 design, nothing more than a fiberglass splinter, five meters wide and carrying far more sail than any reasonable sailor would think was even halfway rational. Had it not been for her advanced automation, the computer driven mast and keels, and the ballast tanks, no single sailor could have managed a boat this powerful. Ami was designed for ocean racing alone, and contained none of the amenities a cruising sailor would want. A toilet, for instance.

After doffing the spinnaker and raising the jib to better catch a quartering wind, Pascal turned abruptly south and toward the dangerous lower fifties. He swore at Jerome Blacker, at JBI, at the idiocy that put him and Louella at risk in this around the world race. With this delay he'd never prove his worth, his ability to be the first across the line. If he didn't, then Blacker had every reason in the world to back out of sending him to Jupiter.

Why had he ever suggested it?

* * *

A day later he recalled with some envy how pleasant those five indolent days crossing the equator had been, quite unlike the storm that now lashed his boat.

The rain gear he wore over his warm clothing made moving about the deck awkward. He hated the sound the gear made and its chemical scent of solvents and plastic. The inside of the suit felt like a sauna. He'd love to open the front, but to crack the Velcro seals was to invite the rain, wind, and biting cold inside—a whole other order of numbing discomfort.

What was worst about the rain gear was taking a piss, where he had to drop the front of the outer pants to get to his fly. Thankfully, once that was done he could just let go into the wind and not have to climb below to use the bucket like la noire probably had to do. Such was the advantage of men on boats. Well, for the two women in the race, Ann and Louella, it was either use the bucket or wet themselves. He'd wet himself more than once, when boat handling was paramount and dropping pants not an option. Personal cleanliness was not a grave concern when the safety of your boat was at stake.

To reach Louella at the fastest speed possible, he was sailing with Mon Ami's main, flying jib, and staysail. All that sail meant he had to fight to keep her from heeling too much as she crabbed up and down the high waves. The wind temperature was barely four degrees above freezing. Not as cold as it was going to get, but cold enough to make standing at the wheel a miserable experience.

The steady rise and fall of Ami made footing treacherous. If not for his deck boots he'd probably have to lash himself to the wheel, like the wooden-ship sailors. Because of the waves and weather he wore le pieuvre diabolique, the octopus from hell, a safety harness whose straps and buckles, snaps and rings, made donning it overtop the cold weather gear an exercise in combative frustration. He hated the thing as much as he appreciated the need for it.

A single carbon-fiber cable snaked from the harness to a D-ring in the center of the cockpit. That was all that would keep him from being swept overboard by a rogue wave or misstep. That increased safety was purchased at a disadvantage. Moving about the boat meant tethering the line to the various D-rings, much as a mountain climber would secure belay points as he progressed up a sheer cliff.

That thought made Pascal shiver. He could never understand why anyone in their right mind would chance their lives by climbing a mountain. Hanging on a thin line off the face of a cliff even a few hundred feet up was suicidal, idiotic. A thousand feet was beyond the pale.

Better the safer ocean and seas. Even with all its dangers, from bad weather to huge waves, one still remained reasonably and sanely close to the planet.

Which was another point he hadn't thought deeply about when he bravely suggested the Jupiter race. Humanity belonged on the land and sea, not in the sky.

Just as Ami crested a wave Pascal heard a distinct ping, the sound a highly tensioned cable makes when struck—or when it breaks. At the same moment the boat lurched sideways as it lost wind.

An instant later something on the windward side began beating against the mast. He turned the wheel over to the autopilot and, after making sure that Ami was holding true to course, struggled forward. It had to be one of the cables that braced the mast.

He hadn't gone very far forward when he saw the problem. The middle shroud, the one attached to the mast about twenty meters above the deck, was slack enough to flail the mast. Both the top and bottom seemed connected, so it must have stretched——but that was not possible!

Blinking against the stinging spray, he looked up and saw that halfway along the shroud's length there were only a few stands of wire holding it together.

The remaining two shrouds might be able handle the wind loading if those few wires separated, but he could not be certain. And, if the compensating shroud servos kept taking up the slack, there would be hell to pay. He didn't relish the thought of a broken steel line whipping about the deck when the cable broke. Given enough force it could wrap itself around arms, or worse, cut him in two.

There was no choice. He had to kill the power to that servos and then replace the cable at once. Fortunately he had another cable in the hold, along with the extra sails and other spare gear he thought he might need in this non-stop race.

Before he could do anything he had to come off the wind and relieve the pressure. That would cost him valuable time, but it couldn't be avoided.

He turned Mon Ami upwind and let the boat run close-hauled. The pitching of the deck increased now that the waves were having more influence on the motion of the boat, but that couldn't be avoided either. Mon Ami would continue up wind at a few knots and on a stable setting with the wind backfilling the jib and the main loose.

With the pressure relieved, the shroud hung slack, swinging only in reaction the boat's movements. He quickly crawled below decks, found the breaker, and killed the power to the servos.

He considered the situation. Replacing the shroud meant he would have to climb twenty meters above the deck. It was insanity to climb so high in such heavy seas. Too damn much like climbing a mountain.

The fear of falling sank into the pit of his stomach. It was an icicle of fear that nearly froze him to inaction.

* * *

"You must do it," George insisted over the radio. Pascal had put the task off by asking him for a second opinion. It wasn't cowardice he told himself. It was the prudent thing to do.

"It should not have broken," he snapped angrily. "Those shrouds were less than a year old." Of course, he should have had them tested, but somehow there hadn't been enough time before the race.

"I agree," George replied, "But you can't chance sailing with damaged equipment. You've got to replace it."

He knew George was right. The weather and waves he would face farther south would be too demanding for less than ideal equipment. "Perhaps I should drop sail until the storm passes," he said, hating the words that left his mouth. "I would lose a few hours at most."

"Hours that Louella might need," George replied too quickly. "Fix the damned shroud, Pascal. You've got to get to her as fast as you can."

George was right. He had no choice but to face that terrible height and try to conquer a fear it made him sick to even acknowledge.

* * *

Pascal pulled a cable from the spares locker and returned to the wind and spray. At the mast he unsnapped the safety line from his harness and hooked the spinnaker lift line to it. He threaded the belay line carefully through the loops, saying a prayer with each, as if each was a bead on a rosary.

He put one foot on the boom and pulled himself up. The boat's rolling and pitching motion was already more pronounced just two meters above the base of the mast. The higher he went, the more swing he'd have to endure.

The thought of climbing any higher froze him more than the wind and rain, but putting it off wasn't an option. He fought to convince himself that he only had to climb a little way and he'd be done. He pulled the line tight and, bracing his boot on the first of the sail's tracks, pulled himself up another half meter. He let the replacement pay out behind him as he slowly climbed.

Mon Ami's swing became ever more pronounced as he ascended, almost nine meters from side to side at times. Only by keeping a tight grip on the mast prevented his body from swinging wildly above the deck, like a flag waved by an excited child.

Things only got harder when he reached the lower spreader. To get around it he would have to use both hands. He tried not to look down at the angry sea and tiny deck far below him.

He secured the line before taking it in both hands, saying a brief prayer, and swinging his body to hook his leg over the spreader. He held tight to spreader with one hand as he desperately took up the slack in his safety line with the other. When that was done, he hugged the mast in relief.

After a few moments he composed himself and once again began his climb. Only two meters higher the replacement snagged behind him. No amount of tugging and pulling would free it. He cursed the gods of mechanical objects and carefully lowered himself to work it around the spreader.

As he reached to free the snag, he glanced down and saw the deck and water swaying beneath him. His heart pounded as if it would leap from his chest. His stomach clenched, and he vomited, sending a splash of bile across the face of the mainsail. It took an effort of will to stop his bowels from releasing, but it was too late to keep from wetting himself. He was shivering; his sweat felt like ice water inside the overheated suit. He was going to die. He was going to fall. He should never have come up here. Who was screaming, he wondered?

Slowly the panic attack subsided, and he could once again begin to think rationally. But his gnawing, gibbering fear of heights remained. He could not stay here, his inner demon cried. He had to get back down. He had to get to safety.

No, to come this far and stop was idiocy. Pascal took a deep breath and stood on the spreader. Carefully, deliberately, and trying to not think of the dangerous climb remaining before him, he took one careful step after another until he reached anchor point of the damaged shroud, just beneath the upper spreader. He pulled past it and then, repeating the frightening maneuver, hooked a leg and levered himself to sit on the spreader.

Before he did anything else he ran the end of the safety line around the mast and tied himself to it. The sway was enormous at twenty meters above the deck. Despite his years on the sea he started to feel queasy. Each time the boat rolled forward he felt as if he were going to continue going face over into the sea.

He concentrated on the anchor point and shut out the motion of the boat and the long drop below—everything but the task of fastening the replacement.

Pascal released the spare cable from his harness with one hand, only to realize that he would have to use both hands to fasten it to the mast. That meant he had to depend only on the line holding him to the mast, a line that now seemed far too thin to hold him.

Releasing both hands was an act so simple in concept and so difficult to perform. He tried to force himself to release his hold as his eyes filled with tears of fear and frustration. His mind, always rational, was willing, but emotionally, his body knew that to let go was to invite disaster, to let go was to lose his perch and fall, fall, fall tens of meters, only to be dashed to death on the deck or, worse yet, be cast into the unkind and frigid ocean.

No. He wasn't going to let that happen, not after going through so much effort, facing so much fear, passing so much piss to get here. He drew in a breath, braced himself, and let go.

He had just released the damaged shroud when the sudden pitching of the boat threw him backward, cracking his head hard against the mast and nearly dislodging his death grip on the spare cable. Only the knowledge that, if he let go of the spare, he would have to repeat the painful, horrid, miserable, pants-wetting climb once again made him hold onto it.

On the next attempt he synchronized his actions to the boat's motion. He leaned forward, quickly pulled the new shroud's end through the eye, slipped a clamp over both sides of the loop, and snapped it close. Three turns of the clamp's screw secured it. It was done so smoothly and quickly that he was done before the boat pitched again.

Muscles burning, and his ever-present fear still gibbering, he carefully worked his way back down to the deck.

His arms were shaking from fatigue as he wound the cable through the servos, attached the end to the deck, and took up the slack until he could tighten it no further, even using the wrench handle as a lever on the turnbuckle. He let the length of broken cable slip into the sea.

Pascal crawled on hands and knees to the cockpit. Fastened his harness to the cockpit's D-ring. And then, totally exhausted, ignoring the rain, his soiled pants, and the freezing cold, collapsed on the wet deck to cry with relief and thankfulness, and to curse Louella and JBI and the planet Jupiter, curse them all to hell and gone.

* * *

Louella wondered about the lone Orca. Didn't they usually travel in groups? Wasn't she too far from the seals' feeding grounds near the Antarctic shelf, where the Orcas usually hunted?

There was little else to think about, the Orca and her looming death. Her whole world was water, ice, hull under her, the Orca, and the bobbing orange emergency beacon.

She figured it would take a while for either location to organize a rescue mission. Until then she had to hang on. If the EPIRB was working. How much time did she have before a rescue plane found her? Could she stay awake for however long that took? If they couldn't find her then thirst and exhaustion would doom her even if she did miraculously manage to stay aboard Mistrial's slippery hull.

She didn't have high hopes of rescue, even if someone were able to hear the EPIRB's distress signal. At her last position check she'd been at 58 South, 135 West. That was over thirty-seven hundred kilometers from Perth, about the same from Adelaide, and more than fifty-five hundred from the Christchurch rescue field in New Zealand. A rescue plane launched from any of those would only have a couple of hours of fuel to spend searching before they had to return.

Thirst would only be uncomfortable, but it would be exhaustion that did her in. The longer she was exposed to the elements, the more her strength would be sapped by the bitter cold, the angry wind, and the steady pounding of the towering waves. It was only a matter of time before the Southern Ocean took her into the sea.

"Tell me, Sheila," the Orca continued with an Australian accent. "Why would someone like you ever come to a place like this?"

* * *

Louella hadn't intended to enter the Super Grand Vendee race. She and her business partner Scott Jamison had been trying to raise the funds to outfit one of the ultimate British Offshore Race boats. They had a good partnership. She was the talent, the woman at the helm, the brave sailor, the pretty face of their partnership, while Scott took care of the business side.

Scott arranged her personal appearances, got writers to ghost her articles, and constantly fed the maw of the sporting press with teasers, ticklers, and occasionally, a bit of substance about the simply fabulous Louella and her races.

Keeping Louella's name in the press was important. Their sponsors—at least the ones who could throw a few tens of thousands of euros toward a sailboat race—wouldn't fund an unknown.

Together, Scott and Louella were a marketing force that could pry funds out of every wanna-be sailing enthusiast they could reach. Corporations were Scott's specialty. He'd already rounded up a dozen sponsors who would pay for the privilege of having their logo on the boat's hull. Those who wanted their icon to grace a sail, especially one of the huge spinnakers, paid a small fortune. Just having a picture of the nylon billboard plastered across the front pages of newspapers and magazines around the world was an irresistible lure to corporations of a certain type. And if Louella's boat, logo flying, were the first across the finish line, they paid a handsome bonus.

Sponsoring their next BOR entry, Groupe FP5, and gear wouldn't come cheap. Already the estimates for even entering the competition went way beyond their initial breathtaking estimates—well over the eight-hundred thousand she needed just for the hull of the boat that would cross the starting line. The support crew who would meet them at each port, the spare parts, extra sail, two replacement masts and booms, travel expenses, and provisions would more than double that number.

So far Scott had arm-twisted and cajoled seventy-five percent of the total they needed.

"I think we're limiting ourselves," he remarked over dinner one evening in Brisbane where they had been checking out the specifications on a new asymmetric jenniker foresail. "We've been concentrating on the traditional backers. You know, the global conglomerates, the networks, the web weaves, and groups like that."

Louella wondered what he was getting at as she picked at her scampi. The community that had any interest in sailing, especially high speed, long route sailing, was quite small, and the population of those who were willing to support it with real money was smaller yet. Competition for those few was fierce and, as far as she knew, there were no untapped sources, no new sponsors. Funds obtained from one source denied cash from that source to someone else. Half the battle, it seemed, was fought before the boats ever got launched.

"We tried getting public support a few years back. Penny-ante donations from the clubs aren't worth the accounting effort it takes to collect," she said.

"I'm not talking about going after the boat clubs," Scott said with a smug smile. "I'm talking about hitting another class of companies."

Louella sighed. "There aren't any others, Scott. We've hit the regional ones, the nationals, the transnationals, the internationals, and the global conglomerates. We've begged from everybody with money on the face of the Earth."

Scott grinned widely. "Yes, I agree. But there's more than the face of the Earth."

"What the hell have you been drinking, Scott? Has some alien invasion force of corporate financers landed?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes. We've got an appointment with Jerome Blacker."

Louella shook her head. "Who?"

"Jerome Blacker, president of Blacker industries." Seeing the puzzled look on Louella's face, he continued. "You know—JBI, the Jupiter people."

Louella nearly spit a scampi as the name finally clicked. "Are you out of your fucking mind? Why the hell would somebody in the deep space industry fund a sailboat race?" She waved toward the ceiling. "I'd think they'd be sinking every euro they have into building more resources out there."

Scott nodded. "I thought the same thing, but the other day I got a strange phone call from Blacker's secretary to set up an appointment. He was anxious to meet us, she said."

Louella tried to imagine why the president of JBI would be interested in meeting a couple of blue-water racers. The corporation founded by the father and run by the son was something you occasionally read about in the news, usually in conjunction with some space disaster in the Jupiter complex. Surely she would have heard if he had any interest in sailing—most of the corporate types who spent their company's money on sponsorships were enthusiasts. But nobody in the race business had ever mentioned Blacker.

Just the same, the call was curious, and she was not one to turn down a prospective sponsor. Not when they were short for the BOR.

"All right, lets give it a shot," she said with a shrug. "A couple hundred thousand euros,"—the amount they needed to round out the BOR funding—"are probably less than his company's monthly coffee fund."

* * *

There had been eight people in Blacker's waiting room. Louella recognized the three sailors immediately: George Franchard, Pascal Dumay, and Randy Holiday. Two of them had raced with her occasionally during the past five years, and the other was a frequent rival. All were fiercely competitive, all were world-class racers, and she knew that all of them were still struggling to get their BOR entries funded.

"Looks like Blacker's going to listen to us all and pick which one he sponsors for the BOR," Scott whispered. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize our appointment was going to be a shoot-out."

Louella shrugged. "Part of the game, Scott. Listen, you go talk to the other suits. I'll see what I can find out from the sailors." She went over to exchange greetings with Randy, George, and Pascal.

An outsider would have seen certain hard to define similarities in the group of four sailors; but other sailors would have recognized them immediately. Randy and Pascal were burned brown by the sun but George and Louella had started out brown by virtue of their ancestry.

Louella was tall, tough, and heavy boned, Pascal slender, George muscular, with a wrestler's build and Randy was of only average stature and appearance. Each had their own style; Randy with his languorous drawl and deliberate movements, mercurial Pascal, who spoke in quick bursts, and phlegmatic George, who said little and seldom gestured.

She quickly learned that none had previously contacted JBI, nor had even considered doing so for much the same reasons that Louella had outlined to Scott over dinner in Brisbane. All had been called around the same time as Scott.

"Mr. Blacker will see you now," an attractive young woman announced. George and Randy gave her trim figure a not-too-subtle appraisal and smiled at her. Too damn sophisticated for their tastes, Louella guessed when the woman didn't acknowledge their smiles.

The man behind the massive desk was a shrunken caricature of a senior executive whose buzzard's neck stuck out of a collar several sizes too large. Louella had expected someone younger, more dynamic and forceful-looking. Then she got it. This wasn't Jerome Blacker; it had to be his father, the founder himself.

Blacker's hands were too large for his body, with swollen knuckles and mottled skin so thin you could see every vein and tendon beneath the many liver spots—a worker's hands, she noted. They were folded in front with blunt thumbs touching and fingers interlaced. She saw the slight trembling and realized he was holding them that way to steady them.

"My family's built JBI from the ground up," he began before they got settled. No handshakes here. His voice was surprisingly forceful, not at all the cracking, age-damaged squeak of a doddering oldster. "We financed the ships, constructed the stations, and started mining the moons. Made JBI a name to be reckoned with on Jupiter, by God."

Blacker paused and let his watery blue eyes scan the group. His mouth was set, daring anyone to disagree with his declaration. "Now my dear son has failed to convince the powers that be that we should reap the rewards of our efforts. The piss-ants will only let us take a fraction of my investment out of the complex. They want us to spend the rest out there, as if I was some damned economic tooth fairy."

Louella had been following the JBI news ever since they got the appointment. There was some sort of independence movement out at Jupiter, an attempt to develop their own economy and government. It had something to do with money and dependency on Earth, mutual trade and the like. It got hazy after that. She was a sailor, not an economist.

Blacker continued speaking. "Our God-damned weak-kneed politicos won't help me despite my contributions. Too unpopular, they say. That's why you're here. I want them to appreciate what we've done, and throw popular support my way. I've decided to appeal to the public. I want people to equate JBI with the grand traditions—risk taking, fighting at the edge of disaster, pushing the limits of possibility."

Scott cleared his throat. "Pardon me, sir, but the BOR isn't exactly a risky race. Granted that it might be exciting, but there's very little risk involved. The boats are hardly ever out of sight of each other."

The old man gave him a baleful stare. "Who the hell is talking about some trivial warm-water race? Waste of your talent, time, and money if you ask me."

There was a collective intake of breath. Louella and Scott were not the only ones to feel that they had been misled. Louella was the first one on her feet, followed quickly by the mercurial Pascal Dumay.

"You've just cost us two day's travel and God knows how many broken appointments," she said, glaring at the old man. "If you're not going to put up any money for the BOR, then why the hell did you invite us here?"

"Je suis d'accord. Vous etre a—" Pascal stopped abruptly and continued in accented English. "This is imposition upon us at this stage of the game. I must launch in two weeks and still have not the money for provisions."

Blacker raised his hand. "I'll pay whatever expenses you've incurred. Even throw in a few euros for decals on your ass if you want. Now shut up, sit down, and listen."

Louella and Pascal sat.

"I want you for another race. One where you'll carry the JBI name on your boats. I want to show the world what sort of company JBI represents. I want everyone to realize that we can achieve greatness only through great risk. I want to sponsor each of you in the next Super Grand Vendee."

Louella felt as if the ground had dropped away beneath her. The Super was a single-handed race around the world, 24,000 nautical miles of sailing across every longitude, through the absolute worst weather and water on the Earth, and returning. It was a single-hand race, so each boat, each sailor, had to be self-sufficient. There would be no landfalls, no supply ships, and no refreshing layovers allowed, save for repairs. The Super was a headlong race from start to finish, eighty-plus days and nights of continuous sailing.

It was more than just grueling. Fifty lives had been lost over the years in the Super, most in the depths of the Southern Ocean where rescue was nearly impossible. Others had fallen victim to the open ocean's mountainous waves, sudden storms, icebergs, and even to the ever-present danger of being run down by a freighter.

To win the Super you had to race around the clock with little sleep, live with a constant fear of failure, put up with extreme loneliness, and endure the unrelenting physical stress of sailing a high performance boat twenty-four hours, day after day through the baking heat of the tropics, through the bitter Antarctic weather, and back again. It was the most punishing, backbreaking test of human endurance in sailing.

It was also an offer Louella had never dreamed of getting. The cost of outfitting one of the Vendee-class boats was way out of her reach. She'd never dreamed anyone would trust her with a boat costing that much.

"I'll do it," she said at once. Pascal added his assent only a moment before Randy's agreement.

"I'm no damned hero," George said as he stalked out of the room. "You'll get my expense sheet tomorrow," he shot back over his shoulder.

"What exactly do you mean by sponsor?" Scott asked quickly. "What sort of stake are we talking about?" The usual corporate share was ten to twenty percent, and that contingent on finding enough other sponsors to foot the rest of the bill.

Blacker scowled. "Whatever you need, just don't get greedy. You four are the best sailors money can buy, and your skills will mean more than any fancy boat."

"Three," Randy corrected, pointing at George's empty chair.

"Four," Blacker said with a smile. "I'm certain Franchard will come to his senses in the morning."

Louella knew he was right. Despite his parting declaration, George wouldn't back down from an opportunity to race the Super, not with the rest of them in the fleet.

"That's a very generous offer, sir," Scott said carefully, "But I hope you realize how much—"

"Do you know how much those stations on Jupiter cost?" Blacker demanded. "Thirty billion each—and that doesn't include the upkeep, staffing, or insurance. Want to know the price of launch facilities, the shipment costs, and the hourly rates those damn pirates manning the supply elevators charge? The price of your silly little racing toys can't compare. Tell me what you'll need for the Super and I'll write the checks. Just make certain that you four cross the finish line and at least one of you gets there first."

A younger version of the old man entered the room. "Dad, I heard you'd come in today and—" he stopped speaking when he noticed the others, managed a smile. "Hello. I'm Jerome Blacker. Nobody told me you'd arrived."

The older Blacker chortled. "I told your damn fancy secretary not to bother you, Jerry. Figured you were having too much fun negotiating with those damned government sharks." Then he turned to Louella and the others. "You all get out of here now. I want a set of your campaign plans and budget estimates on my desk by the end of the week. Find some decent boats too. Good day."

He waved his hand in dismissal. His son looked as if he were going to explode.

Which he did. Louella heard his raised voice as the door began closing. "I don't care if you are the chairman, Dad. You can't just promise these people—" The rest of his words were silenced by the closing door.

"I think we'd better hurry if we want to get that check," Scott said softly as he took his briefcase and coat from the slender secretary.

Randy lingered a moment longer to get his own coat, but still got no smile from Blacker's fancy assistant.

* * *

Old Blacker and a much younger man had shown up at the race party two nights before the start of the British Ocean Race and joined Louella at her table. Things were going well. The aptly named Randy was alternating attentions between his wife and his mistress. George was in deep conversation with his fiancé. Scott was giving a German groupie some serious attention. As for Louella, she was flirting outrageously with a muscular pair from the Australian crew. Pascal, arm around one of his buddies, was singing what she supposed were bawdy ballads in a dialect of French that no one else seemed to understand.

"Damn, wish I were eighty years younger." The old man sighed with a nod toward Randy. "Course, back then I was more interested in making money than chasing tail. Good thing too, JBI would never have grown the way it has if I'd been distracted."

"What brings you here?" Scott asked as he peeled himself away from the German groupie's tight embrace and joined the conversation.

"Not that we aren't glad to see you, of course." Louella added tactfully.

"Decided you all needed a little help with the real race. This is Alex Humei, one of our engineers," he nodded toward the dark young man beside him.

"Sdras, at du." The youngster's accent was thick enough to cut with a knife. Louella guessed it wasn't French, Indian, or Russian, nor one of the Germanic tongues.

"He's down from Jupiter," Blacker said with a put-upon expression, "And talks like it."

"I am . . . engineer of ships," Alex said carefully. She could tell he was straining hard to keep the Jupiter patois, a mixture of English, French, German, Russian, and Hindi, out of his speech. "I build Jupiter boats."

"He means our atmospheric floaters," Blacker said, and a wistful expression crossed his face "Damn, I wish I were young enough to sail on one." He let out a mordant laugh. "The launch would probably kill me, though. Not that my damn son would even let me try."

The mention of sailing was all Louella needed to hear. "Is sailing on Jupiter dangerous?" she asked.

The old man didn't give Alex a chance to answer. "If you ask me, everything out there is too damn civilized now. Elevators from orbit to the stations, settlements on all of the moons, regular transport from the inner system—I tell you, Jupiter's turned into another damn suburb of Earth now. Hardly a frontier any more."

"Still, is dangerous," Alex said quietly. "Lose dozens peoples a year. Mistake can destroy floater in instant. To sail there, is not for those who can't live with fear."

Louella found herself taking a sudden liking to this husky lad. "What's it like to be on one of those deep atmosphere ships?" She was curious about the vessels he built. They were a cross between a submarine and a dirigible and floated on the interface between sharply divided pressure gradients within Jupiter's deep atmosphere. At that level of the atmosphere there were only two gravities, a load that most humans could bear, unlike the massive gravity well at the bottom. That is, if there were a bottom at all.

She'd seen a picture of one with its long, diamond-fiber keel that balanced the pressure on the massive sails. The sails were tough metal atop a structure that appeared to be a submarine the size of a blimp. The sailors rode inside and piloted blind across the windy vastness to reach their destinations. Despite their differences, they were still recognizably sailboats.

To a blue-water sailor like her, the idea of sailing across the surface of the largest planet in the solar system was intriguing.

"Sailing there a challenge," Alex answered. "You don't feel the wind or see outside—too much static for radar and not much light. Sail by feel, mostly."

She also knew they constantly faced death from the cold, the vacuum, all under the relentless pull of Jupiter. It took more than courage to sail across the huge planet's face. Craziness maybe? Like the sort needed for the big race to come?

"We use an inertial, our main navigation instrument, to guide us and use heat sensors to find stations. Risky business, but it works. That what JBI want me to help you with—make race boats sail better, maybe."

Louella hoped there was some JBI technology that might give her a bit of advantage over the competition. But maybe not; the differences in the environment might just be too extreme. "I'm all for better," she replied.

Blacker interrupted again. "We have a warehouse full of equipment Alex can draw on. Soon as you all get your boats you give him a call." He turned to the young engineer. "Run along now and see if you can find your crewmates in the mess."

"Are you sailing in the race?" Louella asked Alex, surprised by Blacker's unexpected announcement.

"But not skipper," Alex grinned. "Am crew. Do you think I miss a chance on race boat? Want to feel the wind and see the water big time." Alex smiled and bowed. "Fair winds and following seas."

Louella was pleased to hear the ancient sailor's blessing. "It's going to be interesting to hear what someone who sailed on Jupiter thinks about a blue-water race," she remarked as he left.

"He'll do just fine." Blacker said. "Now, I have some questions about this boat you said you didn't like. I thought the price was about right."

Business: the sure-fire party killer. She turned back to Blacker. "Listen, I didn't want a god-damned plastic bathtub of a boat that would probably bring me in dead last—if it somehow managed to hang together that long. The design was over ten years old, too old for this race. I need a fast boat that will get me back alive, and in first place. If you don't want to pony up the cash for that, then leave me out of the fucking race." Brave words for someone who was spending someone else's millions.

She regretted the words the moment they left her mouth. What if he took her up on it? God in heaven, she hoped he wouldn't. He just stared, waiting her out.

"There's one that ran the Volvo-Honda," she added quickly. "Belgian-built and available. I'm flying over there after the race to take a look. It'll cost you just a little bit more than that other scow."

"You're running out of time," Blacker said sharply. "The others have theirs lined up already. If this one doesn't meet your high standards," he put sarcastic emphasis on the last words, "You'll be off the team."

She just stared back at him and, after a while, he started to laugh.

* * *

The BOR went as expected. Louella and her crew came in second, a heart-breaking fifty-two second deficit that shouldn't have happened, but, when she ran into a hole in the wind a dozen kilometers from the finish there was absolutely nothing she could do except drift on her momentum.

Pascal's Soliel du Sud had wafted past her on a cell of fresh air just a few hundred meters off her port side, forcing her to hear the boom of the finish line cannon as he passed the officials' boat.

The post-race celebrations were brief and predictable. Pascal got tossed into the chilly New England water by his cheering, all-French crew, everyone doused themselves with bottles of cheap champagne, and the losers were allowed to loudly complain of mischance and the foibles of the wind gods to anyone who would listen as they drank and bragged about overcoming the problems with their boats. Each tale sounded more outrageous than the previous, until the Portuguese skipper swore he'd had to lasso two dolphins to give him a tow out of a wind hole off Newfoundland.

After that the details of the party got increasingly hazy. Louella recalled flirting outrageously with the Australians while Pascal and Jupiter's Alex had been deeply engrossed in conversation. George had been his usual dour self, and Randy and Ann Wilkerson, the English skipper, had been laughing at some private joke while his Canadian girlfriend fumed at the bar. Ann already had her boat entered for the Super. There was some sort of incident, one of the skippers threw up, a fight started, and she vaguely remembered kissing a lot of people.

* * *

Louella woke up the next morning in her hotel room between the two charming grinders from the Australian entry. She kissed them both soundly, threw her stuff in a bag, checked out, and took a taxi to the airport to catch her plane for Belgium. Sergio Pontclario was anxious to sell Mistrial, an older Open 80 design, so he could buy a new boat.

Pascal arrived at Logan around the same time in the company of his friends and barely nodded at her. They'd been competitors for years and, on occasion, crewmates—skipper and navigator/tactician usually. He was the best man on the plotting table she'd ever seen, but all his damn scientific approach couldn't beat the feel she had for the wind, water, and weather. Woman's intuition, he'd sneered dismissively during the revival Volvo-Honda Open 60 race. Well, that intuition or whatever it was had saved their butts from the hurricane during the Bermuda leg, just as his piloting skill had gotten them home with only a rag of a mainsail and the spare jib.

It had been a thrill the whole way.

* * *

Louella's feet were going numb from the constant wash of frigid water across the hull. The waves were only three- or four-meter swells, and at a frequency that let the overturned Mistrial ride up and down their gentle slopes. Each crest exposed her to the biting roar of the wind blowing at Beaufort scale five or six, at least twenty knots or more, and let her see the distant line of storm clouds heading her way. Black clouds growing visibly closer with each successive glimpse.

Odds of surviving a storm were not good. A storm-wind's force could push the waves to twenty meters or more, and whip freezing foam off the waves' crashing crests. Waves like that would carry her upside-down boat aloft, only to fall down their steep sides into the troughs. Each time tons of frigid water would crash down, making it impossible for her to maintain her already tenuous hold.

In the chill waters her survival time would be measured in mere minutes. Even through the insulation of her survival suit she'd lose too much heat. The driving sea foam, the froth of wind-whipped water, would infiltrate her nose and mouth, choking and drowning her. Which would come first, she wondered, suffocating or freezing?

Despite the absolute certainty of her approaching death Louella felt a strange calm. Everything that had happened had been a result of her deliberate choice. No one had forced her to enter the race. No one had held a gun to her head and made her sail this fragile shell of fiberglass and electronics into the misery of the Southern Ocean. All that had happened had been of her own choosing, her own decisions. The only regret she had was that she had let Pascal down and ruined his chances of experiencing the fierce winds of Jupiter.

"Another question, I have," the Orca shouted again. For some reason he had suddenly acquired a Spanish accent. This was quite confusing, but she was in no condition to answer him. She just wanted to sleep—not that she dared. "Why would you ever sail in these dangerous waters?"

* * *

Sergio's Open 80, Mistrial, was totally unlike the Open 60s she'd raced in other around the world races. The Open-class boats all had broad hulls and smooth, slim contours; boats that were as much works of art as sailing machines—and many times more expensive than anything in the Louvre.

The Open 80-class were radically different, and not only because of their intense use of electronics and computers to manage every aspect of boat handling. She could handle the twenty-one-meter Open 60s by herself, but not one of these twenty-five meter splinters where they had sacrificed a lot of stability for speed.

"Isn't she beautiful?" Sergio asked proudly.

Not to her. Louella tried to get her mind around Mistrial's length. It was little more than an angular surfboard. A flat deck covered the entire length from bow to cockpit with an open transom at the stern. From the too-pointed bowsprit along the straight sides to the abrupt stern it was a thin wedge of a vessel.

The most striking aspect of Mistrial was the height of her aerodynamic, carbon-fiber mast. It stood forty and a fraction meters above the water line and held a fifteen-meter boom just above the deck. Four spreaders anchored the long, high-tensioned shrouds that kept the mast erect.

"Mistrial, she can carry over three hundred square meters of sail downwind," Sergio bragged. "Under full sail, she'll do nearly fifty knots close-hauled and thirty on a reach."

That was far more sail than any boat of this length seemed capable of carrying. Louella knew she'd have to reduce sail on the upwind headings, of course. Too much power could easily drive the boat into the oncoming waves.

She dropped inside the cabin, three steps from the wheels, one from the motorized winches, and took two steps down into the body of the boat. Inside the cabin there was barely any headroom. The cabin was wider than it was deep. A spider-work chart table took up much of what little room there was.

The cabin's interior was all raw fiberglass with wooden floorboards. She saw exposed bolt heads, hull seams and rough glass surfaces everywhere. Only the overhead was padded—soundproofing, she wondered, or head protection from rough seas?

There was a fold-down canvas cot for the short naps she'd have to take. The walls were covered with mesh bags for clothes and the few things her restricted weight allowance would allow. There were no drawers, no cabinets, none of the fancy gear a cruising sailor might use to make life easier. This boat was all business, and its business was to sail as fast as possible.

The pilot's chair was just a mesh skeleton suspended from the thwarts, the galley a one-burner propane stove, useful mostly for heating water given that she'd have very little food to cook except soup and tea.

The chart table was nothing more than a frame with a spider-web of lightweight fiber threads that supported all of the communications, navigation, and other electronics she'd need.

"The cabin, she is watertight," Sergio had pointed proudly to the neoprene-rimmed hatch between the cabin and the cockpit during that introductory meeting. "In the cold seas you can be warm and dry inside. As if I'd have time, Louella thought.

"The two swing rudders," he continued, "are canted to either side to give her better stability on an extreme heel. They are married to the tilt of the mast by the computers."

"What if it overturns?" Louella asked sharply. "Where are the hatches?" She well knew the history of the race and how many lives had been lost from boats turning turtle. The problem was that this sort of boat was just as stable upside down, if not more so. Only the action of the ballast pumps, attention to sail set, and skillful piloting kept them from capsizing. Once flipped, with sails in the water, the Open-design boats stayed on their backs.

"Are access hatches there and here," Sergio pointed out two oval hatches; one on the foredeck accessed the sail locker, which doubled as a floatation chamber. The other hatch was amidships and provided access to all the electrical equipment. That was also accessible from inside the cabin through a crawl hole.

"Is there a hatch in the bottom of the boat?" Louella asked. "I'd like some way out if it flips while I'm inside."

"Mistrial will not turn over," Sergio protested in a hurt voice. "The hydraulics and servos," he pointed mid-ships where the complex of shroud servos, mast gybals, and keep drivers were installed, "Will adjust the center of mass and angle of the mast if Mistrial heels more than twenty degrees. If she goes beyond that angle they will compensate."

Sergio went on to explain at length the automated ballast pumps, the swinging keels that were coordinated with the mast, and the gyroscopic stabilization framework. He mentioned the triply redundant backup systems that controlled everything from winch motors to rudder. He spoke of angular momentum, of torque, of compensating forces. He explained about the boat's moment of inertia and her center of mass. He explained about rigorous testing, about modeling every possible contingency, and about all the past successes of Mistrial mastering the worst storms, all to prove the boat's stability.

Louella listened impatiently, only to break in and say. "I still wish there was a God-damned escape hatch in the hull." She had as much faith in his physics as she did in George's horoscope.

Sergio muttered something about women, sailing, and excessive caution, all of which Louella chose to ignore. Let him think what he would, he wouldn't be putting his ass on the line in the Southern Ocean.

* * *

Louella left Scott to make the final financial arrangements while she prepared to have Mistrial hauled out for inspection. She wanted to make certain there were no hidden defects in the hull. After that, while the suits were passing papers and talking euros, she met with JBI's engineer to see what he could offer.

"We have a number of technologies we can use to outfit your boat." The JBI engineer handed her a list.

Louella saw that some shroud servos had an 'F' beside them, and pointed at the entry. "What's this mean?"

"They are for shrouds, the lines that hold the mast," the young man replied absently as he looked over Mistrial's design sheets.

"I think I do know what a shroud is," Louella snapped. She didn't like being patronized by a damn engineer. "Do you use these to drive the cables on your floaters?"

The engineer appeared to be puzzled by the tone of her voice. "No. We use metal sails, so these motors could not drive the very strong chain that holds them. We can't use this thin sail fabric you use. That would be like using a spider web to harness a hurricane."

"So what the eff is the 'F' for?"

He laughed. "The 'F' means your teammate Franchard wanted them on his boat."

Putting extra strength servos on the shrouds would be just like George, ever mindful of caution and security. "I won't need them. I put brand-new, quarter-inch stainless shrouds and good Hercules servos on Mistrial."

"For Randy Holiday," the JBI engineer continued, pointing at an 'H' farther down the page. "We're installing deck winches. They're the ones that can reel in the sails, even against Jupiter's hurricane force winds."

Louella wondered why Randy wanted to that much power. The winches indicated were twice the weight of the Lewmar winches on Mistrial. Heavy-duty winches might come in handy during bad weather, but their additional weight meant he'd sacrifice speed. That was an option she could easily do without. She wanted Mistrial as light and agile as possible. "Any other suggestions?"

The engineer seemed intent on the design sheets. "How about your communications and navigation? Are they any good?"

Louella smiled. "She had a GPS on her already, but I'm installing a backup so I'll have two units. Also getting the best charting software I can buy with the money Blacker is giving me."

"I think we can give you some inertial tracking gear," Alex said. "It give you positive fix. Better than GPS, I think. Doesn't depend on anything but itself."

Louella hoped the unit would compensate for her less-than-stunning plotting skills. Maybe it would also make up for the GPS deficiencies. Down near the bottom of the world the ocean surface deviated quite a bit from the smooth sphere of the theoretical GPS database. It would be best to have a positive position confirmation at all times.

"What does it weigh? I can't afford to add more than ten kilograms to my weight budget." She'd trimmed the list of her supplies to the bone already.

"Three kilos, she's thirty square and ten high," the JBI man replied, indicating the size of the box with his hands. "Most of that the case and fittings. She'll need to have a rigid base. The readout's a little case like that." He pointed to Louella's pocket computer.

"We'll put the box on the deck, in the cabin," Louella replied. Maybe they could put it under the nav table where she'd use it for a footrest.

"We have some luxury food items," he continued. "Freeze-dried fruit, good soups. We ship stuff that don't weigh much. Saves money when we send to Jupiter."

That made sense. If she could reduce the weight of the food onboard she could add some more communications gear. Maybe even an extra set of cold weather gear. "Let's do it. Have you got a list of what's available?"

They spent rest of the evening going over the inventory and planning her menus. She was surprised at the number of gourmet items on the list and selected the very best for her Christmas dinner.

She saved enough weight that she could afford to add a nice bottle of wine for her equatorial crossing celebration.

* * *

"Come now, you must have more interesting things to talk about than sailing," said the Orca in an Irish brogue. "Did you sail here alone, or were you part of something else—a race, perhaps?"

She resented the question, especially now. The distant line of storm clouds looked more threatening with each successive glimpse. She wished he'd just go away. She was getting tired of his questions, questions, questions.

"Yes," she whispered. "There was a race."

* * *

Jerome Blacker sponsored a qualifying race to get around the rule that his entries had to race at least once on their boats. It wasn't illegal, just too difficult and expensive for most of the sponsors.

Louella was surprised he'd done so. Unlike the older Blacker, Jerome had paid attention to every peso they spent, cutting corners, making them get their multimillion euro boats as cheaply as possible, and being generally parsimonious with the sail inventory, as if you could even buy a used Kevlar-Tylvex mainsail for less that forty thousand and change. Despite the older Blacker's initial promises, the money actually flowing from the obscenely wealthy JBI was just barely enough to cover expenses.

As if getting qualified wasn't enough of a problem, there was the initial bitching and moaning by the race committee about Jupiter not really being a country, and that none of JBI's skippers were really citizens of Jupiter anyway, and—

The Blackers had quickly produced papers attesting to their employment at JBI in general and their contract to sail on Jupiter to offset the first objections. The others died quickly enough when Nigeria recognized the Jupiter Free Trade and Independence party's claim to nation status. France, hoping to steal the march on the rest of the European Union, quickly followed, and the committee had to accept the fait accompli.

The older Blacker and Jerome probably shit Jupiter-sized bricks when they realized that the devils who were causing them so much grief on Jupiter were the reason for their success in getting accepted for the Super.

* * *

Pascal cornered Jerome Blacker at the bar during a pre-race party. "Monsieur Blacker," he began. "I've a proposition. Actually, it was one that your Alex, the cute engineer joked about earlier."

Jerome raised an eyebrow as he sipped his glass of wine and surveyed the boisterous crowd. "Really?" He wrinkled his nose as if Pascal wore an unpleasant scent. Pascal had seen this look before, many times. Usually it was the older crowd of Jerome's age and position. Perhaps the look was in response to his hair, the earrings, or the pale puce jacket he wore—all signs of his preferences.

"Would JBI be interested in sponsoring a race across Jupiter?" Pascal said, trying to convey the excitement he felt at the prospect and overcome the distaste Blacker obviously displayed. "I think you should sponsor a race from one station to the next, much the way the Volvo-Honda Around-the-World does here on Earth."

"And why would I be interested in doing something as foolish as that?" Blacker said. "The idea appears to me to be a great waste of resources with very little purpose." He started to turn away.

"It would be great publicity for JBI," Pascal replied loudly. "The race would demonstrate the work JBI is doing out there. It could show Jupiter as an interesting and exciting place instead of just a big ball of industrial raw materials. It would gather you more press than le Grand, I'm positive."

"We get quite enough publicity as it is," Jerome said with a sour look. "But most of it's bad, I'll will admit. That's one of the reasons Father insisted on sponsoring you in this race, despite its hideously expensive price. I just hope the return is worth the cost of your toys. "

Louella walked up, arm in arm with the elder Blacker. "Did someone say toys?" she asked.

"He means your boats," old Blacker growled. "Just like this one, son. Had to shop around until she found one she liked best."

Louella squeezed his arm. "But Mistrial is so much faster than the other. She placed third in her last race and it only cost a little more."

"That's what my last wife said about the house I'm stuck with," the old man growled. " Well, never mind. We got a good price on the lease anyway."

"Ready to go, Dad?" Jerome asked, draining the last of his wine from the glass.

Pascal felt panic as the opportunity started to slip away. "Perhaps your father would be interested in my idea," he said in desperation.

Jerome's father cocked an eyebrow. "Tell me more, Son." His son looked as if he'd been struck.

Ignoring the dark looks he was getting from his sponsor, Pascal quickly outlined the concept of racing the Jupiter boats from station to station, boats that would be manned by professional sailors, such as himself.

"That's a great idea." Louella applauded. "Hey, it might even be fun."

When Pascal saw that the old man looked interested, he pressed his case. "It wouldn't cost JBI any real money like le Grand has. Weren't you complaining that you had funds out there that you couldn't put your hands on? Well, why don't you use that money to outfit the boats and supplies."

Old Blacker rubbed his chin. "Sounds like an interesting idea. The Board might go for something like this. Might even build on the race with some other projects."

Jerome Blacker started to take another sip of wine, but stopped with the empty glass halfway to his lips. "It's too risky. We don't know what sort of publicity we might get. What if something goes wrong? What if we lose a ship and crew? Those floaters aren't cheap, you know. Would you seriously consider letting someone risk their lives or one of our expensive ships?"

"Oh for God's sake, Jerome, forget your damn penny-pinching budgets," the older Blacker said. "The floaters aren't that expensive! Last year you pissed away more than they cost on those damn mining machines we've got on Io."

"But those machines will eventually produce a return," Jerome replied evenly. "I dislike dumping money into anything that won't show a decent return on investment. I think the whole idea is too chancy."

His father grinned. "Damn straight, Son. Glad you learned that much from all that expensive schooling. The only thing you didn't learn was how to take risks with anything else. We've got to take chances, Son."

Jerome sighed. "We've been over this before, Dad. But we can't take on more risk than we're comfortable with.

"Humpf! Nobody learns a damn thing if they don't take a few risks."

Pascal saw an opening. "You could do this. The sailing world needs something more interesting than these around-the-world races. A Jupiter race will create excitement. It will gather more publicity for JBI than anything else. But only if you are the first to propose it."

"I like your spirit, boy," the old man said.

"The only trouble is," Jerome interrupted. "Is that you," he thrust a finger at Pascal's chest, "can't sail alone. Minimum crew, even for a deep atmospheric miner, is two on board. You'd need to find somebody else foolish enough to sail with you."

"I'll crew with him," Louella said boldly and stepped forward to Pascal's side. "Crap, they're just sailboats, aren't they? What could be so hard about that?"

Pascal stared at her. Of all the people in the sailing community Louella was the least likely in his mind to volunteer for this. Was she drunk and talking out of her head? Perhaps he should . . . But no, he had to take advantage of whatever wind shift came his way. "There we are," he said proudly and put an arm across her broad shoulders. "We are a crew."

The old man slapped his son on the back. "There you go," he said with a laugh. "He called your bluff. You going to raise or fold?"

Jerome was clearly angered by his father's gibe. There was a red flush about his neck that was climbing toward his cheeks. "If I did such a foolish thing and went ahead with this crazy idea of yours," he began slowly and deliberately, "why wouldn't I choose one of my own pilots?"

"Damn it, man. We've both been sailing our whole lives," Louella said. "And, frankly, there isn't a damned sailor on the planet better than me and Pascal. I doubt some corporate monkey would do any better."

Pascal felt the probability of success, which only instants before had looked so promising, had suddenly plunged to negative numbers. Calling Blacker's pilots monkeys wasn't the most politic thing to say.

"So you want a challenge?" Jerome said, glaring defiantly at his father first and then leaning toward Pascal. "Do you?"

"Yes. I want a race that will really put all the skills and knowledge I've gained to the test. I'll do it."

"And me, too," Louella said. "Let's see if these damned winds on Jupiter can beat me."

"Very well, I'll give you a challenge. JBI will put up one hundred and twenty million euros from our Jupiter holdings and let you use a floater from our fleet. It will be waiting for you on Jupiter. Think that would do it?"

"Jesus," Louella gasped, and threw her own drink back in one gulp.

Pascal would have done the same, had he a drink in hand. That was more money than he ever imagined JBI would offer. He'd gotten some idea of costs from Alex, but he thought much less would be enough.

Wait a moment. Blacker wasn't a man given to generosity, no matter how mad he was at le pere. "What do you mean about another challenge?"

Blacker grinned. "All right, sailor, here's the deal: First, you convince enough people to put at least three floaters in the race. Next, you both get in shape so you can walk around in two gees. And finally, one of you will have to be the first boat across the finish line in this race. If you can do all of that, I'll send you on the long trip out to Jupiter and back in two years."

"Two years?" Louella and Pascal said in concert.

Jerome smiled. "Yes, I don't want you wasting the time after you finish the Grand Vendee. I'll make certain you both get into prime physical condition and know every damn rivet on the ship you'll be sailing."

Pascal was the first to recover. Quickly, he scribbled on a napkin and pushed it across to Jerome. "Will you sign a contract on that?"

Blacker started at the words, aware that his challenge had suddenly crystallized. "I don't . . ." he began.

"Damn, I'd hate to play poker with you," the old man said admiringly to Pascal. "Come on Jerry, sign the napkin. We can always have one of our obscenely expensive lawyers look at it later. Time to play your hand, Son. Call or fold."

Jerome scowled at his father and scribbled his signature on the napkin. He turned to face Louella and Pascal. "Personally, I doubt that you'll be able to find enough backers. What's more, I don't think you'll be able to find anyone insane enough to sail across Jupiter in a stupid race."

"If you think that will be difficult," Pascal smiled as he slipped the napkin into his pocket. "Then you don't understand sailors."

* * *

Louella's sea trials with Mistrial gave her few surprises. She'd expected the boat to handle well, even in the wilds of the North Sea's winter.

Nor was she surprised at the speeds Mistrial was able to achieve under full sail; she expected that with so much sail area pushing a long waterline. However, the sound her huge sails made astounded her. They sang a deep bass note, a steady thrum, thrum, thrum as wind whipped across their huge surface area. The mainsail's song was accompanied by the fluttering of the staysail's trailing edge, and only occasionally drowned by the drumlike boom whenever the huge spinnaker filled with wind.

Mistrial was a thoroughbred. She was a fast and temperamental machine that demanded constant attention, even with all the automated systems supporting her. Louella quickly learned that it only took a moment's lapse of focus for the craft to go awry and turn to windward or heel dangerously.

But all of those problems were as nothing when balanced against the joyous exhilaration of flying across the sea, skimming the blue-green waves, feeling the wind in her face, and hearing the spray hissing off the rudders. The experience made every bit of stress worth it.

* * *

"But surely," the Orca asked in the patois of the Jupiter workers, "zey vould nay race allow so quick-quick."

Louella shook her head. The damned fish was really getting bothersome. Of course they wouldn't let a novice into the race. Not only did you need to be qualified for ocean racing, but you also had to prove you knew how to handle a highly automated Open 80 design.

* * *

The start of the Super was a watery riot. Nearly every boat in the North Sea had come to see the start, despite the chill November weather. They crowded so close to the course that Louella feared one of them might collide with the race boats. The race marshals' skimmers dashed back and forth to keep the starting lanes clear, but there were always a few sightseers who encroached. All it would take to ruin a couple millions-of-euro investment was for some damn weekend sailor's cruising crap boat to hit one of the racers.

Louella wished they'd had the foresight to arm the marshals' skimmers with cannon. Shooting the more egregious of the violators would make the rest more cautious. But she knew that would never happen. The weak-kneed officials would worry about the negative publicity and how it would diminish the tourist trade. She thought otherwise, thinking the crowds might enjoy a bit of blood sport to liven up a gray autumn day.

George waved at her from the deck of Monte de Olimpo as they danced back and forth near the starting line. He had bargained for one of the newer boats, about five years old. Olimpo had a shorter mast. That stub might give him greater stability, but at the sacrifice of total sail area, which equated to lower average speed. George had, as usual, been as conservative in his choice as he had in his heavy-duty shrouds. Speed was what would win the race, not security.

Randy was the odd man out. He was sailing Io-Io, an English boat as old as Louella's, but much broader and shallower. On a following wind Io-Io would lift and surf the waves, which was an advantage, but it would do far worse on beating to windward. That would hurt him in the roaring forties, the lower latitudes where high and dangerously shifting winds roared across the open ocean. He, more than the others, would have to pay close attention to the weather charts and avoid the worst of the wind.

The rest of the boats varied only by degree from each other, differences that became more and more subtle with each generation of the boats as the architects converged on the ideal Open 80 design. Every race entry was an experiment in perfection. Everyone was also quite aware that any design failure would be punished with the loss of the race, the boat, or a life.

She looked past George's boat to see another of the team. The mast of Pascal's boat, Mon Ami, was as tall as her own, but on a Farr-designed hull. Mon Ami was narrower, longer, and sat higher in the water. Unlike Mistrial's drake-back, his boat had an open transom.

Pascal made a sudden tack and switched to her windward side. She looked at the committee boat and estimated the amount of time it would take to clear it. She turned to port, forcing him upwind, and then straightened her line to aim directly at the committee boat.

"Starboard!" she yelled to let him know she demanded right-of-way.

There wasn't enough clearance for Pascal to go downwind without cutting off the Spanish entry, nor was there any way for him to pass her. He shouted something unintelligible and turned upwind, across the line and into a technical foul. Now he had to make a one-eighty around the committee's boat before he could cross again.

It hadn't been a nice thing to do, but the foul wouldn't hurt him much. The difference of a few minutes at the start was insignificant considering the eighty-odd days it would be before they reached the finish. Besides, she owed him one for getting her into that Jupiter race thing, not that she regretted the decision. Besides, she was still pissed because he had beat her to suggesting Alex's idea to Blacker.

The race's fleet stayed together along most of the coast, spreading out only after they cleared the English Channel. Louella engaged in a tacking duel with Besta, the American entry, most of the way.

After Besta and Mistrial cleared the channel she turned south to hug the French coast while Besta followed the rest into the Atlantic with a strategy to head south and west of the Canary Islands. That route would let them take advantage of the Azores high, a permanent clockwise flow in the North Atlantic winter.

The JBI team planned to split, with two of the boats shooting the gap between Africa and Cape Verde islands. While Pascal and George went to the west with the fleet, she and Randy hoped to catch a boost from the weather coming out of the Indian Ocean. Both strategies had the objective of getting across the equator and through the doldrums as quickly as possible.

Once through the doldrums, most of the fleet would curve back east to gain whatever advantage they could of the South Atlantic high on the other side of the equator.

They'd know which was the better course by the time they reached the south twenty latitudes.

* * *

Louella's luck improved slightly. The storm appeared to be passing to the north, sending only some driving rain and bitter winds across the hull.

Had she really talked to an Orca? It didn't seem possible, but the memory was so vivid. Why would an Orca hang around her anyway? Was it interested in her as a person, or simply looking for an easy meal?

She looked around, but there was nothing in sight but gray-blue water, a few clouds, and the EPRIB bobbing a few meters away from the hull.

* * *

Reaching the calm doldrums north of the equator presented no problems for Louella. She and Pascal had followed a western course that took advantage of the Azores high, a region of circulation that helped carry them farther south.

Three of the leading boats had caught the edge of an infant hurricane boiling out of Africa. Jean Rachel, her mainsail shredded, was limping toward the coast in hope of repairs so her skipper could continue the race, even though Louella doubted he would ever make up the lost time.

Another boat, Aeguela, one of the French entries, was also waiting for pickup, her rigging and sails too damaged to continue. Nobody had heard from Europa Royale since the storm passed. She hoped Eric, her skipper, was all right. Lack of communications was a bad sign.

Luckily, Louella and Pascal had run into a wind hole off the Canary Islands. At the time she had cursed loudly as she limped along at less than ten knots. Even with full sails and with a two hundred square meter spinnaker flying, she'd felt as if she'd been barely moving. But then, if she'd been speedier she'd have caught the storm as well.

She spent Christmas singing carols and stringing paper cutouts across the cabin. She popped the bottle of wine she'd been saving, ate fois gras from a can, and tossed the wine bottle with a note to the wind gods into the ocean.

The winds were so light that she'd slept a lot while letting the autopilot handle the navigation. At ten south, the weather download revealed a low forming behind her.

This time of year the warming climate was spinning small wind cells off the equator in quick succession. She steered westerly to get on a downwind edge of the low to drive her farther toward thirty degrees south where she could pick up the trade winds.

Pascal was kilometers behind her and ever-cautious George was farther east, but quite a bit north. She'd lost radio contact with Randy the night before, but figured that he was keeping at least a hundred klicks ahead of her, but keeping to the same course. They had gone over the race strategy together so many times that they each knew the course by heart.

Louella was constantly checking the inertial and the readouts from the GPS to make certain that she wasn't drifting off course. So far the box from Jupiter was agreeing with everything the GPS said.

The loss of contact with Randy wasn't worrisome. In the relatively benign area of twenty degrees south there was little danger of him having serious problems. He'd probably just had an electrical failure or maybe he just decided he needed a little solitude.

That was one of the drawbacks of modern communications—you were never really out of touch with friends and family, never beyond the reach of your corporate sponsors, never escaped the grasp of the news-hungry press. Just the same, every sailor, at one time or another regretted having that voracious, demanding, but sanity-saving link to civilization.

The low was good to her. From the reports she'd pulled another four hundred miles ahead of poor, cautious George. And, if he was to be believed, she still had a large lead on Pascal.

The race's first tragedy struck suddenly. Robblier, the Spanish entry skippered by Yves de Santo, was run down by a Liberian freighter shortly after New Year and sank immediately. The emergency beacon had beeped as soon as it hit the water, pinpointing the location and alerting the crew on the freighter to what had occurred. Despite an extensive search of the area by the freighter's crew and the South African navy, no trace of Robblier or Yves could be found.

The accident sent a chill of fear through Louella. She could not stay awake for the entire race. At some point in each day or night she had to rest. That meant letting the boat sail under autopilot with the hope that the radar reflectors and lights would protect her from other ships at sea. But ships' crews did not always stand watch, nor did they pay much attention to small radar returns in the middle of the night ocean.

She hardly recalled what the Yves looked like; was he the wiry one with all that hair, or the bald one with the big feet?

Once she reached thirty-five south latitudes she'd be clear of the major shipping lanes and, in the roaring forties, she'd not encounter another vessel of any type. But then, considering the dangerous Southern Ocean, other ships would be less a concern than practically everything else.

* * *

Louella was startled by the Orca's flowered belly and bright orange back. He spoke in the singsong rhythm of southern India. "Forgive my informal attire," he apologized as his snout emerged from the sea. "Please, as I said before, I am curious as to why a woman would choose to die here."

Typical male question, she thought. Women were not unknown to the Super. Three of the early competitors had been Autissier, Chabaud, and Thompson, women who raced as well as, if not better than, the men. They proved that internal strength of character and gritty endurance mattered most in this ultimate test and not just brute strength, as everyone had contended before then.

The Southern Ocean tested all sailors to the limits of their ability. Despite the spread of civilization across the face of Earth, it remained the one place where the single-handed sailor was absolutely, totally alone. Was that why she'd come south of the fifty? Had accepting the risk been for no better reason than to prove herself worthy to test herself against a frigging giant planet? If so, it was a hell of a way to do it.

There were far easier ways to die.

* * *

Pascal thought that the new shroud seemed to be working well. Ami mounted the larger waves and plowed through the smaller ones. According to his charting program they had just passed over the south fifty and entered the Southern Ocean.

The ocean was the same gray-blue expanse as before. There was no maker or other division. The only thing marking the occasion was a tick mark on mankind's artificial line across the bottom of the Earth.

Just the same, he was not deceived. Down in this region sudden storms could arise in minutes, ice floes were possible, and there could even be rogue waves.

The cause of rogue waves was still a matter of conjecture. Some oceanographers contended that they built up as a harmonic synchronicity of wave action. Others favored the seismic theory; that they were caused by abrupt earthquake shifts in the seabed. Then there were the wind force advocates, the Atlantis nuts, and the calving iceberg group.

Pascal believed all of the theories and none of them. It all depended on the state of his inebriation at the time. Despite the theories, the huge waves were a serious threat to any boat that chanced to encounter one, and especially dangerous when the boat was a narrow splinter such as his.

Still, such monsters were far from his mind on this balmy day. He figured he was about four hundred kilometers away from the beacon, roughly a day's sail at the speed he was going. He hoped that the weather would remain benign.

A few hours later he cursed the wind gods. The skies had darkened and loosed a miserably cold drizzle that drenched everything. In addition, the wind was abruptly quartering from dead ahead to ninety degrees to his line of travel and varying in intensity.

The sudden shifts forced him to remain at the wheel, constantly adjusting Ami's heading so as not to lose speed. The wind changes from heavy gusts to a complete loss of breeze was irritating, especially since the constant changes kept him from taking a break.

At one point he chanced a dash into the cabin for water and a snack only to be rewarded when Ami abruptly broached. The deck tilted suddenly as she slid sideways, only to tilt abruptly in the other direction as Ami turned into the wind. The boom swung from side to side, the main sail luffed, and the boat rapidly lost momentum. He could hear the keep motors and shroud servos working to keep her upright as he fought the wheel. Even with their help it took him several minutes to get her back on course again and longer still to regain his former speed.

And he'd dropped his snack.

* * *

"I assume you have no high hopes of rescue," the Orca mused as it munched on a squid that looked suspiciously like Jerome Blacker. "You know that you can't stay awake for much longer."

Stay awake? Hell, she couldn't even stay alive for much longer. She could feel herself weakening, her strength being leached away the bitter cold, the angry wind, and the steady pounding of Mistrial by the towering waves.

It would have been nice to have had time to release the life raft before she had to scramble for her life. With that nifty little rig she'd be warm, dry, and have something to eat and drink as she waited for rescue instead of sprawling on the slick, upside down bottom of Sergio's damn and prophetically named Mistrial.

Was this what her life's arc had become; to die alone and cold in the depths of the most remote spot on Earth? Had her whole life simply been preparation for this rather stupid end? Still, it hadn't been a bad life. She'd enjoyed the camaraderie of the sailing community, enjoyed being feted by the rich and famous, liked having her pick of handsome men, and, best of all, absolutely loved beating the pants off anyone who thought women had no place on a high-performance sailboat. It was a real pity that she wasn't going to be the first woman sailor on Jupiter and show them what she could really do.

What would Scott do when she was gone? He was her executor, so she had no concerns about property or money. He'd get everything, of course. It was the least she could do for her partner. She just hoped he didn't take up with some airhead who didn't know a fairlead from a turnbuckle.

She regretted not being there to help George, Pascal, and Randy tie one on at the end of the race, nor seeing the joyous faces of their significant others as they returned safely to the port. Would that she could do likewise.

The Orca broached. "I must say, you are taking a rather long time to die, aren't you?"

She didn't respond.

* * *

She got the bad news about Phil and Besta when she was well south of the Cape of Good Hope, skirting the Atlantic high toward the bottom of her course, and approaching forty-five degrees, the closest she dared come to the Southern Ocean. Weather showed clear sailing for a couple of days, but down here that could change in an instant.

They'd lost communication with Besta, Phil Peter's boat, soon after it crossed forty-two, south. Then, after he hadn't been heard from for days, his EPRIM chirped momentarily. None of his other communication gear had signaled, which meant something catastrophic must have happened. Nothing else would silence so many backups at once.

A Brazilian navy training ship, the closest thing to him, was steaming toward his last known position, but there really wasn't much hope without some sort of radio contact. A raft is a tiny thing in a few million square kilometers of ocean, too tiny for even the sat-cams to image.

She cried over Phil's loss for a solid hour, remembering the good times they'd had, and how Phil had been laughing when they last parted.

Crying! Maybe the solitude was starting to get to her. She'd only been at sea for thirty-eight days, a little less than halfway through the race.

For a while she envied Randy and Ann, who had somehow managed to hook up in the doldrums—that is, if the radio chatter had been right. Neither would say whether the gossip was true or not, so speculation was rampant for at least a week. That's how boring were the early stages of the race.

These daily chats with the unseen skippers spread over hundreds of square kilometers helped dispel her loneliness, but those minutes of precious socialization were hardly enough to satisfy her. On those days when there wasn't enough sun to provide the surplus power she needed for the radio, the feeling grew worse. How would she ever face the rest of the trip? There were at least another forty-odd days to endure before she reached the finish line.

Was she going to be a total whimpering mess by the time she reached the finish? Gods, she had to pull herself together.

Of course, her runaway emotions could be from lack of sleep, a poor eating schedule, or the constant effort of keeping Mistrial on course. All those combined had to be taking a toll on her.

Then too, the lack of anything to look at save Mistrial's deck and the undulating sea didn't stimulate the mind that much. It was not uncommon for single-hand skippers to have hallucinations. The other day she swore she watched trees going by on either side, as if she were back in Scott's SL500 on the cypress-lined roads of southern France, and not in the middle of the ocean.

What she needed was more excitement.

* * *

Excitement? The roaring forties gave her that and more. A front had brought gale-force winds of over fifty knots. The crests of the twenty-meter waves were blown off and gave the sea a white cover of foam. The storm had turned the day gray and filled the air with pelting rain.

Louella had reefed down the main sail to half of its area but left the foredeck staysail as it was. Even with reduced sail Mistrial was still moving at a steady twenty-five knots, according to the GPS readout and the inertial. It was like riding a roller coaster, only wetter.

Rest had become impossible since every pitch of Mistrial jerked Louella this way and that. The bunk was out of the question. There was no way she could risk a nap under these conditions.

One of the lead boats, Chateau Legal de France, was reporting that they were feeling the first effects of another bad storm coming from the northwest. Louella studied the Australian satellite images and decided that if she headed farther south she could pick up the edge winds and possibly gain on the leaders of the race.

Going south and closer to Antarctica this soon in the race was dangerous, especially in the face of a storm, even if it was slated to pass to your north side. Aside from the storm the greater danger was encountering icebergs or, worse yet, growlers.

The Southern Ocean contained icebergs of all sizes. It was easy to avoid the larger ones, the giants that reared high above the water and spread dangerously much wider below; wide enough to snag a boat's keel. It would be the smaller bergs –-growlers—that would be a constant concern. Growlers showed little above the water's surface but are massive enough to damage the hull of a boat moving at speed. A single sharp icy edge was all it would take to rip through Mistrial's composite skin, tear through the Kevlar panels, and allow the ocean to fill the floatation chambers so that the boat sank ever lower into the sea.

Mistrial would never completely sink so long as two of her four airtight compartments were sealed. Even with half of them flooded, it would sink only until the deck was awash. The masts would still project thirty-six meters into the air and allow her to continue sailing.

Flooded, Mistrial would move only at a snail's pace, a fraction of her normal speed, but perhaps that might be enough to make it to a place of rescue.

On the other hand, did her chances of hitting a growler offset the advantage she'd gain in time? Maybe, by going south of fifty degrees, she'd make up for those lazy, useless days she'd spent in the doldrums. She wondered if the possibility of gaining on the leader was worth the increased risk.

She wished Scott were here. He was the one who knew all about risk analysis, about weighing risk against benefits, about threats versus probability. All she had to go on was her gut and it was telling her that the risk of a few icebergs, storms, heavy seas, and who knew what else, might be worth seeing the looks on the others' faces when she made up the time. The risk wasn't that great. She was a good sailor and had handled boats in rough weather before. She could handle this.

She turned Mistrial toward Antarctica.

* * *

The Orca had surfaced again and was back in his formal wear, all black and white. "Still here, I see. You must fear dying awfully much if you are fighting this hard. Wouldn't it be easier to just let go? It's inevitable, you know, and I'm getting hungry."

Louella wondered if he was right. Why was she struggling so much when the odds were clearly against her? Thirst, cold, weakness, lack of sleep, or the mechanical action of boat and wave could all do her in. All she had to do was close her eyes . . .

* * *

The storm-driven waves had been building for two days and now towered over Mistrial like liquid mountains. Each was angry and powerful, a churning mass of frigid, gray-green water flecked with wind-driven foam. The succession of waves thundered along with all the force of nature, driven by winds unfettered by geographic features.

For the millionth time Louella regretted her decision to come this far south so early in the circuit about Antarctica. The more southern route exposed her to the roughest seas in the Southern Ocean for longer than she had planned. Farther on, when she approached the Drake passage between South America and Antarctica, there was no choice. This route had been a calculated risk, she thought, and definitely a miscalculated one. Well, she'd made stupid decisions before, but none that looked to be as bad as this one. Even that hurricane she'd weathered with Pascal hadn't looked this bad. Of course, then they'd nine other crewmen to fight the sails.

The wind was northerly, which allowed her to cut across the waves at a thirty-degree angle. It was a difficult tack. On each climb up the face of an onrushing wave Mistrial would heel dangerously to starboard just before cresting the wave. She could hear the whine of the ballast pumps as they filled the portside tanks to offset some of the heel. She heard the screams of the servos as they adjusted the mast to compensate for her attempts to correct. At times like this she felt Mistrial was alive, as living partner in the race, but even her help wasn't enough to make the ride comfortable. Louella had to keep the rudders hard over just to maintain her heading.

After a few hours the partnership of boat and sailor fell into a rhythm of maneuvers that kept Mistrial stable; falling away as she descended the backs of the waves and fighting to starboard as she climbed the next. But that rhythm deluded her into thinking that she had everything under control. It made her imagine that she could tame the seas.

Mistrial spun about as it fell off a breaking wave just as the wind slackened. The wheel twisted hard enough to rip from her numb hands as the boat turned broadside to the following wave. She spun the wheel to recover, but before she could get Mistrial turned back on course, the next wave drove her even more sideways. Mistrial fell into the next trough, wallowed, and let the next wave hit the mainsail with tons of water with such force that it knocked the boat onto her side.

Mistrial's computers struggled to compensate and right herself when she was hit with another wave. The next thing Louella knew there was a cloud of stiff Kevlar-Tylvex and crap falling into the cockpit, water rushing over the port side, and a snake of stainless steel, probably one of the shroud cables, wrapped around her leg. The boom had fallen directly between the two wheels, and another long pole—the mast?—lay on top of it.

Mistrial continued to tip as it climbed another large wave. The deck became a forty-five degree slope and the tilt was increasing toward the point where she could not right herself.

The servos were grinding, winch motors growling, and every alarm on the boat was demanding attention with their shrill cries.

She tried to pull her leg free of the line as she pushed aside the mass of stiff sail that covered her. She scrambled down the tilting deck but something long and hard stopped her. Another part of the mast, probably. She had to get past it. She had to get to the release.

Louella fought to reach the emergency raft. She beat at the loose sail, pushing it aside as the slope increased. Freeing the raft would deploy both the NEARCOM satellite beacon and the BARAD long-range positioning unit, her two best hopes for rescue.

Only she didn't have time to reach the damn release. Gray-green water swirled around her waist as she struggled to free herself, but the tangle wouldn't give way. Mistrial's deck became nearly vertical and Louella found herself tangled in sail and lines. Even the swing keels' counterweights couldn't compensate for something this extreme.

Knife! Louella reached down, flipped her sling-back blade open and hacked at the stiff Kevlar-Tylvex fabric. The embedded glass threads were tough, even for her diamond-edged blade. She twisted the knife and cut along the long dimension of the fabric, opened a long slit, and felt around for the handle of the release. If she didn't get free, the boat was going to roll on top of her.

Time ran out. She kicked herself toward the stern. It was too late to try to go in any other direction if she didn't want to be trapped under the boat. She'd have a better chance to swim out from the stern. The damn cable was still wrapped around her leg. She grabbed it and yanked. There seemed to be a lot of slack. She hauled again, took a loop in her hand, and kicked again as another wave hit and Mistrial finally turned turtle.

Louella struggled to reach the surface as Mistrial rolled gracefully over, the rudders and keels emerging like the fins of some international-orange sea monster. Her suit had inflated enough to maintain buoyancy, but it made her every move awkward. She fought the waves and her survival suit. She had to return to the stern where she could clamber onto the exposed hull. She grew frustrated as the wave action took the boat away whenever she was within a few strokes of reaching it.

There was only a limited amount of time that the suit could maintain her body heat. With so much contact with the frigid water, heat was draining away fast. She looked at the approaching wave, timed her next move, and, with a burst of swinging arms and a powerful kick of her one free leg, reached the stern.

The hull was slippery under her as she crab crawled across the smooth hull to reach the keel. That was the only place where she could brace herself. As another wave passed she started to slide and threw arms wide to create as much friction as possible and arrest her sidewise movement.

It seemed to take hours to reach the keel, but she was finally able to brace a boot against it. With great care she unwrapped the line from her leg, threw the end around the second keel, and held the temporary lifeline with her right hand in a death-defying grip. The position was uncomfortable, but the combination of cable and keel held her solidly on the wildly rolling boat.

Having four hundred square meters of sail and a few hundred kilos of hardware beneath the hull acted like a sea anchor and stabilized the upturned boat in the angry sea. Just the same, she had to hold tight to maintain her position. Back in the water she wouldn't stand a chance of survival, even with her cold-weather survival suit on.

For the first time she noticed that night was falling. "Just get me to morning," she whispered. "Just let me survive."

* * *

After the short night, dawn presented the same seascape as before—a vista of blue-gray water, a few clouds, and the occasional chunk of ice. The EPRIB was still bobbing ten meters away from the overturned boat, hopefully screaming for rescue. There was no sign of the other two buoys nor of the life raft. Even the automatic release hadn't worked. All of her fancy gear was probably trapped in that mess that had fallen across the cockpit and stern.

There was only a one-percent chance of the EPIRB failing, but it would just be her dumb luck to be a member of that demographic. She hoped not.

How long would she have to wait? Would it be hours or days? Her arm ached and one leg had gone to sleep. Very carefully she adjusted her position so that her weight rested on the other side. She just wished that the cold-weather suit had a little more padding. Yeah, and a lot more insulation, too. A little food and water would be nice, as well. She'd rather have a little vodka. It wouldn't help anything but it might make the waiting more bearable.

Damn, it was cold.

* * *

"Allo?" came the querulous cry once more.

Damn, couldn't that Orca keep quiet for a while longer? Louella tried to force her swollen eyes open. She'd almost fallen asleep. She felt so weak. She could no longer feel the line she'd been gripping. Her body felt as if it weighed a thousand tons. She tried to will herself awake. If she fell asleep she'd die for certain.

"Allo," the Orca said again, louder this time. She didn't respond. She was finally getting warm and able to forget her misery. Despite everything she could do she felt herself sliding ever so slowly into a dark pit as the sounds of wind and wave disappeared.

She felt a tug on her leg, as if the Orca was trying to get a purchase and drag her from the boat the way it did a hapless sea lion. There was a second tug, her arm this time. She'd hoped he'd at least let her die before he ate her.

"Let me be, damn it," she croaked weakly through cracked and blistered lips.

* * *

Pascal was near exhaustion. He'd been catching fifteen-minute naps during this race to rescue la noir, the black woman, but nothing longer. Twice the wind and waves had knocked Ami over, the end of the boom dipping into the water, and once, at night and in a howling twenty-knot wind shift, when he'd had to clear the jib from the mast, he'd nearly slipped into the sea. Thankfully, his safety line had held for that critical few seconds it took for him to regain his footing.

The seas had calmed somewhat since then, but the waves were still monstrous. It was difficult to see beyond the trough he was in and, when Ami crested the waves, all he could see was other waves. It was hardly the environment for a successful search where the needle was tiny indeed, and the haystack a thousand square kilometers of nothing but frothing seascape.

On the good side, Louella's EPRIB was still sending out its mindless signal, broadcasting the GPS location to all and sundry. It would be a simple matter to get close to it, Pascal thought, but he didn't want to risk ramming Louella's Mistrial—if it was still afloat. It wouldn't be smart to put both of them in need of rescue.

Instead he tried to maneuver Ami downwind of the EPRIB and slowly drift toward it. That meant going close-hauled with the wind beating the jib backwards and the main hanging slack. He had no control in that situation, however Ami seemed to be stable as she slowly drifted EPIRB-ward.

Then, as he crested a wave, he spotted something orange in the water, like the belly of a very large Orca with a pair of bulb-tipped fins.

It was Louella's overturned boat.

On the next rise he drew closer and saw a body sprawled across the hull. Was she dead or alive? There was no indication of movement during the brief glance he'd gotten. Gods in heaven, three days exposed like that? How could she be anything but dead?

Time to make plans. How could he get to her? If by some miracle she was alive, most certainly she would be in no condition to swim across to his Ami, and it was sheer insanity for him to do likewise to bring her back. Could he lasso her, like one of her western cowboys? No, he had not the skill to cast a line with any accuracy.

Neither could he approach the wreck closely. He had no idea of what lay beneath the surface. It could be a tangle of lines and sails, all too willing to snag his keel or wrap around a rudder. Best to keep well clear of the wreck.

"Allo!" he shouted across the twenty meters now separating the two boats. "Allo!"

There was no response. Not a twitch, not a wave, not the slightest hint of life.

Ami was starting to drift past the wreck so Pascal dropped sail, hoping that he could match drift with the wrecked Mistrial. For a moment it looked as if they were continuing to drift apart and then, a moment later, together. Stable, he thought, and considered his options.

He could not leave the woman like this, even if it was only her dead body. Everyone deserved a proper funeral, a burial if at all possible. When he died he wanted to be buried as far from the sea as possible, perhaps in the deserts of Arizona that he had once visited. Wouldn't she wish the same?

So, what to do? There seemed little option but to get across to the wreck and retrieve her.

A quick call to George brought less than the expected agreement. "No one will think less of you for letting her go. We're just glad we found out what happened."

"I understand," Pascal replied. "But I cannot do that, George. It would be a dishonor for me, for us, to not bring her back. I just want you here in case anything goes wrong."

There was a pause. "I'm about five hours away but I'm coming. Hey, I'll bet Blacker's worried how much the accident's going to cost him," George said.

"I care little for Monsieur Blacker's feelings in this matter," Pascal said. "He is not a sailor. He is not a racer. He would not understand."

"I do, Pascal. As will the rest. Do what you think best and we'll all be behind you. See you in a bit."

* * *

Pascal dressed: Three layers of thermal underwear, cold weather gear, and a survival suit just might be enough to let him survive the frigid swim over to the wreck. Once there he would wrap the body in plastic, tie a line to it and haul it back to Ami. It sounded simple, but the confusion of lines, the pitching hull, and the restrictions the survival suit placed on his every movement made this a strenuous undertaking. Even with all the protection he didn't want to be in the water any longer than necessary.

He clamped his facemask tight, checked to make sure the lines were secure and waited for the boats to swing closer together.

There! He leapt from the transom into the freezing water, gasping as the cold penetrated the outer layer. Swinging his arms wildly, he paddled toward the wreck and was pushed back twice by a wave. Finally he reached the overturned boat, took hold of one swinging rudder, and dragged himself onto the ice-covered hull.

He grabbed hold of Louella's leg as he pulled himself to her side. It looked as if she'd donned her survival suit before Mistrial capsized. That had probably helped her survive for a while, although you could hardly call that a blessing in this weather.

"Mon chere, c'est si mauvais, pauvre fille," he whispered as he pushed his dragline under her. Then he tied a bowline, the only knot he could make with his thick gloves, and tugged on it to make sure it would hold.

"Let me be, damn it," she croaked weakly and tried to push him away. "I don't want to answer any more of your fucking, stupid questions!"

Pascal was so startled he nearly fell overboard. "Louella! You are alive!" It was unbelievable. Alive, and after all this time! George would never believe it.

Her head lolled, and her body went slack.

Pascal knew there was no time to lose. Louella had to be in a fragile state after so much exposure. Would she survive the shock of being dragged through the freezing water? He had no alternative. Regardless of her condition, he had to get her to Ami quickly for whatever medical care he could give her. She needed fluids—maybe warm tea, hot soup, and pain killers? Yes, that would probably be the priorities once he got her safely to Ami.

Pascal made certain that her survival suit was completely sealed, threw the sheet of poly around her for extra flotation, and secured the line holding her to his own waist before cutting her from the thin safety cord.

Immediately both of them slid off the icy deck and into the water. Pascal struggled to get out from under Louella. He had to keep from getting their lines tangled.

Once on the surface he pulled himself and his burden hand-over-hand to Ami. When he reached her low transom he tried to lift Louella from the water, but could not. She was too heavy, and he was too tired.

He hauled himself aboard and, teeth chattering, staggered to the rearmost winch, threw her line around it, and, with agonizing slowness, hand-cranked the winch to lift her aboard. Then he pushed, pulled, rolled, and otherwise manhandled her body into the cabin and out of the weather.

"George, she is alive!" he broadcast on the emergency channel as he gathered medical supplies. "She is alive!"

This had been a race within the race, and he had won. Despite everything the Southern Ocean had thrown at them she was still alive!

* * *

Louella sat in the pilot's seat and stared at Pascal as he stood at the wheel. It had been two days since she woke, and she still felt weak as a newborn kitten. She barely had enough energy to warm tea or fix soup.How many days had she been asleep and how had Pascal managed to take care of her and the boat in that time?

The navigation equipment told her that Pascal was now pushing Ami through the worst part of the race, out of the Ross and into the Bellingshausen Sea. This was where the icebergs were thickest as the current and the wind pushed them toward the Drake Passage.

Thankfully the seas were calmer here; possibly because of the tremendous amount of slush that moderated the waves. Ever since the warming had accelerated abruptly in the late fifties, the Antarctic shelf was sending ever more ice into the sea. The imminent danger of the Ross shelf completely detaching itself and seriously raising the water levels around the world was a grave concern.

She knew her presence on the boat was making a serious dent in Pascal's food and, worse yet, his water. To save weight he carried only enough to last the ninety days afloat. With the output of the desalinization unit it could last him a hundred days. With two of them on board, and more than half the race over, there was enough for perhaps thirty more days, and that only if they were sparing in their intake.

Limiting water was a dangerous option. Once they got above the south thirties they'd need more water to offset that lost to perspiration, an effect that would only grow more acute as they crossed the equator once again.

The bad news was that she had to hang off the stern to snag small chunks of berg they could melt to extend their water supply. The forward hold made a decent ice storage unit.

The good news was that there were lots of chunks.

* * *

Midday the wind had died to nothing more than a stiff breeze with only a mild chop to the water. Earlier in the day they had passed a jagged iceberg that reared at least one hundred meters above the water and surely spread at least that far on either side. From the foredeck Louella marveled at the way the iceberg's colors changed from white through green to deep blue as its depth increased in the clear water. She watched for any underwater green ahead, which would indicate a submerged berg, but Pascal managed to keep the boat well clear.

The growlers were more numerous in this area. Small chunks of ice floated everywhere. There was a constant rattle of ice along the hull, every hard clunk reminding them of the danger of a torn hull, a stove side, and the danger of losing a rudder or keel.

Pascal was picking his way carefully through the icy maze. Sailing like this was tedious, tiring, and took far too much time. They were barely moving, about five knots, a snail's pace compared to the thirty-six she'd made in the fifties.

"Growler," Louella shouted as they approached a dangerous floe. Mon Ami immediately canted to port and nearly sent her into the water.

"Watch what you're doing," she shouted. "I damn near spilled my tea!

"Passengers, they should not be on deck," he scolded.

"I'll sit where I damn well please," she shot back. She'd be damned if she was going to let him boss her around just because he was skipper. Damn, why was he was going so slowly? "Take in the main," she yelled in aggravation. "You'll catch more air."

Pascal ignored her suggestion.

"You'll never catch up with the leaders this way. You're worse than George with his damn caution."

"J'ai un plan," he replied confidently. "I have a plan."

"Right, and I have a million more euros of Blacker's money," she replied.

Once the race's leaders cleared the Drake they'd shoot past the Falklands and up the coast of South America, taking advantage of the South Atlantic high as they raced through summer and into the early Spring of the northern hemisphere.

"You'll never catch up," she growled. Or make up the time he'd lost coming to rescue her, she added, but only to herself.

* * *

As they were approaching the South Shetlands they decided to have a big meal. Once in the passage where so many ships had perished, there would be little time for such diversions. The meeting of Atlantic and Pacific in the narrow passage, and all below sixty, south made for horrific sailing conditions.

"Perhaps we will have to break open the wine cellar," Pascal joked during his dreadful dinner of Jupiter crew kibble and slop. "I think I have a few bottles of good vintage."

By God, she wished he did. She could use a strong drink about now, even if it was only French wine instead of her favorite New Zealand red. "I'll settle for melted bergs," she replied, hoisting her cup.

The melt water wasn't enough to wash down the dry pellets that had so much nutritive value. Alex had sworn that a steady diet of the kibble would extend her life, but Louella suspected that it would only make it seem that way.

* * *

Shooting the Drake Passage was as hair-raising as any of the storms she'd seen in the south fifties; the conflicting currents created swirling, choppy seas, while the winds were blowing almost directly north, toward Cape Horn. Adding to their danger was a storm that drove bullets of rain horizontally across the boat.

Mon Ami was running at extreme heel, her deck tipped at nearly twenty degrees as she plowed at a steady forty-five knots, leaping from wave top to wave top with a steady pitching motion. She tried to study the set of the sails to see how he managed to get so much speed, but all she could see without sticking her head outside was the mainsail.

Louella braced herself in the cabin, checking the weather maps and satellite images, trying to figure out how they could best get clear of the storm. One option was to swing to the east, but that would mean beating back west later so that idea was immediately discarded.

"Keep her on a steady thirty-degrees," she shouted, then looked up from the maps to make certain Pascal had heard her.

But there was no Pascal at the wheel.

"Son of a bitch!" she shouted as she clambered from the cabin to reach the wheel. His safety line was slack and detached from his harness. Had he been washed overboard? How the hell could she hope to find him in this weather? Could she even turn the boat around in this wind?

All this flashed through her mind in the seconds it took for her to stand and take control of the wheel. She was suddenly aware of the biting cold and her own vulnerability. She had neither harness nor gloves. She should have been wearing her survival gear, not the ill-fitting clothing she'd snagged from Pascal's bag.

"What are you doing?" Pascal exclaimed as he appeared at her side. "Get below!" He put one hand in the middle of her back and shoved as he regained control of the wheel. "At once!"

"I was afraid you'd been swept overboard," she shouted.

"Et je amie tu," he replied with a laugh. "I love you, too."

* * *

"What the hell were you thinking, leaving the wheel like that?" she demanded. She was still seething over his apparent disappearance.

Pascal shrugged. "I had to walk the spinnaker around the mast."

"The freaking spinnaker!" Louella looked forward and was shocked that he had put that much sail up. "You're a damned idiot," she said and glanced at the tachometer. Fifty-five knots! To get that kind of speed she might have put up the big rag herself. Nevertheless, it took nerve to fly such a huge sail in these conditions. She doubted there were many who'd have the skills to handle it. Or who, like her and Pascal, would be foolish enough to do so.

"Just the same," he shrugged, "I appreciate that you were concerned for my safety."

"Crap, with you gone I had to take control of the boat. She sure wasn't going to sail herself, was she?"

"Perhaps not," he said and smiled. He had a nice smile, which was a pity. Leave it to her luck that the man who'd rescued her was the one guy in the entire freaking race who wouldn't be willing to jump her bones.

"A fucking pity," she laughed, and laughed again at his puzzled expression as she stumbled back into the cabin.

* * *

A few nights later the storm was past and Ami raced along under clear skies.

"I think we will not be able to fulfill our part of the contract," Pascal said regretfully. "We will not be first."

"Not the way you're sailing," she replied. "Hate to tell you this, friend, but you sail like an old woman. Tighten your line, damn it. If we keep moving at this prudent speed we'll run out of drinking water long before we reach France."

Pascal nodded. "Oui, we must put in for water or have someone bring it to us." He shrugged. "Of course, that would disqualify us."

"We'll never be first across the line anyhow, so taking on water would hardly hurt our chances."

Wait a minute! Had she just said "First?" She leaped up and began to dance around. "I've got it. Pascal, we don't have to win the race. And maybe we don't have to take on water."

Pascal glanced around, as if to see if there were something nearby with which he could restrain the mad woman dancing in the cockpit.

"Your napkin," she shouted. "The one Blacker signed. The contract his lawyers tried to replace with their two-hundred page monstrosity."

Pascal shook his head. "It is the moon, perhaps that has made you mad?"

"Listen to me, you damn snail eater. He wrote that we had to be the first boat across the line. He didn't say we had to win. He didn't say we had to have one skipper. He didn't say anything but that one of our boats had to be first."

"But we are so far behind," Pascal said.

Louella put one hand on the wheel and the other on her hip. "Listen, if the two of us work together we can tighten the sail more, hold a better line, and plot a strategy that will make up the time. If we work together we can sail a lot better than any single skipper working alone."

Pascal hesitated. "If I had more time to study the weather . . ." He screwed his face into a wicked grin. "We are three hundred kilometers behind the leader. Do you really think we can make that up in time?"

"We have twenty-six days of water left," she said. "That's one day over the record for this race. If we work our asses off we just might be able to pull it off."

Pascal paused to make a minor adjustment of the wheel, squinted into the distance, and then, very carefully, took his hand away. "Could you take over while I study the charts? There is much we have to do."

Louella took the wheel in both hands and moved Ami slightly closer to the wind. She looked at the first stars of the evening, smelled the clean ocean scent, felt the wind in her hair, and tasted the salt spray on her lips. This was what she lived for, what she almost died for: the exhilaration of wind and water, of mastering the most magnificent machines crafted by man. This was sailing. This was her life.

All doubt had left her mind, there was no longer any fear of failure. "We're going to do it," she shouted defiantly to the heavens as the motorized winches took in the boom and Ami heeled toward Jupiter.

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